These Lords amendments deal with abortion. I know that the subject of abortion raises very strong feelings in all quarters of the House. There are Members with varying views, many of them very strongly held.
I do not believe that these amendments are particularly concerned with the merits of abortion or the particular views that any of us may take on our present abortion legislation. Nevertheless, I recognise that there are strong views, and it is for that reason that, so far as Gov- ernment supporters are concerned, there will be a free vote on this amendment. I make that clear right at the beginning. However, the Government's view, and certainly my own view, is that we ought to reject Lords amendment no. 130.
By way of introduction and without making a long speech about the amendments, perhaps I should explain these three amendments, because they may not be completely clear. Amendment No. 130, which simply removes the word "Abortion" from part I of schedule 10, would not in fact achieve the objective of removing abortion from the responsibilities of the Scottish Assembly. This is a complicated matter affecting not only the National Health Service but also the criminal law. Without going into detail about it, I would simply say that amendments Nos. 169 and 204, which were moved by the Government in the other place, were intended to achieve, and do achieve, the objective of providing a coherent and workable piece of legislation on abortion.
The effect of the Bill as we have it at present, taking these three amendments together, is that there is a scheme of legislative reservation and executive devolution, because, of course, the Health Service, which is responsible for abortion, is completely devolved and it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to have executive reservation of abortion facilities.
Therefore, we have in the Bill at present legislative reservation. In other words, it would not be possible for the Assembly to change the law on abortion, but the actual carrying out of the legislation and the provision of facilities and so on are, of course, devolved executively as part of the National Health Service.
I make that short explanation, without going into the detail of it, to make it clear that the three amendments with which we are dealing stand together. Therefore, whatever view the House takes on the first amendment, it ought to carry through into the two subsequent amendments if we are to get something which makes sense and is workable.
Turning to the merits of the particular argument, again I do not believe that the question that we are deciding here is really a question relating to the merits of the existing abortion legislation in the United Kingdom. It is simply a question whether the Scottish Assembly, once established, should be free—as I believe it should be—to change the legislation on abortion.
For the purposes of this debate, I do not take a view whether, if there were a change, it should be towards a more liberal or a more restrictive abortion law. That issue is not relevant to this debate, although I should not be surprised if some hon. Members thought it was. What we are dealing with is the simple question whether the Assembly should have the freedom to change the law in Scotland—whether restrictively or liberally being a matter for the Assembly.
I do not want to get into that sort of argument. I am trying to avoid getting into arguments about the merits of the present legislation because, as I said, I do not believe that that is the issue that we are debating.
On the principle of the matter—whether there should be devolution—my own strong view is that, because the National Health Service as a whole is to be the responsibility of the Assembly, there seems no reason why a particular part of NHS provision which may relate to abortion should be excluded.
I believe that the same is true of the criminal law, which we are devolving to Scotland. We are not providing for any reservations. On very important matters, including those with a strong moral aspect, we are under the Bill allowing the Assembly to decide. Matters relating to capital punishment, moral questions like the law on homosexuality and many other matters are all being devolved.
I do not believe that it would be right to prevent the Assembly from taking a view on abortion in principle. In fact, in principle it would be wholly wrong, simply because the subject arouses strong emotions. The current of public opinion in Scotland may be different from the opinion here, or the Members of the Assembly may collectively take a different view from Members of this House. Whatever that view may be, it would be wrong to deny the Assembly the opportunity to apply in Scotland the law which it felt met Scottish circumstances and satisfied Scottish public opinion.
Does the right hon. Gentleman appreciate that historically the law of England and the law of Scotland on abortion were fundamentally different, and that the attempt to liberalise the law of England deliberalised the law of Scotland?
Without necessarily agreeing the whole way with the hon. and learned Gentleman, I remember very well the arguments at the time the 1967 Act was going through the House, which were to the effect that its provisions were not substantially different from the existing Scottish law. Many people took the view that there was no need for that legislation to apply in Scotland. Whatever the rights and wrongs of that from a legal point of view, however, I confirm what the hon. and learned Gentleman says: that there were differences in Scottish abortion law before 1967. There is no reason in principle why there should not be differences in future if the Scottish Assembly should so decide.
Therefore, on the principle of the matter, for historic and other reasons and because the Bill will allow the Scots through their Assembly to make decisions for themselves, I believe strongly that abortion should be among the devolved subjects.
Surely one of the consequences is that we will make it possible, if we take the right hon. Gentleman's advice, to have different law north and south of the border. Which way it differs is irrelevant: it could be much more extreme. The consequence for the National Health Service is surely highly complicated in that we should be opening or closing a back-door Gretna Green in abortion. That is the consequence which worries many of us a great deal.
With respect to the right hon. Lady, I have been dealing with the principle of the matter. I am coming to those particular worries. I wanted to put it on record that in principle I believe that abortion law as well as executive decision should be devolved to the Assembly. That is my first view, and it is the recommendation that I am making to the House.
However, I want now to come to the practical consequences. I accept that there are or could be practical consequences if the law north of the border were made substantially different from the law in the south. In particular, this raises the question of so-called cross-border traffic—that is, assuming that the law is more restrictive on one side of the border, people crossing the border to obtain an abortion which they could not obtain where they lived.
I want to deal with the two aspects of that problem—first, as it relates to the NHS. I believe that this would be a very minor problem, if it were a problem at all, in relation to the NHS. From my reading of previous debates, I judge that some hon. Members were acting under the misconception that at the moment it is possible to choose one's NHS hospital for an abortion. That is not the position at all. We all know that already, even with the law being the same throughout the United Kingdom, there are areas where all the evidence demonstrates that it is easier to obtain an abortion than in other areas. That arises for a number of reasons, including the views of the NHS consultants involved.
There are complaints that that should not be and that if we provide for one law it should be applied in exactly the same way in every part of the country. I agree that in principle that is true, but in practice it has not happened, even under one law.
When, in a particular area, for whatever reason, the law is applied more restrictively, it is not normally open to the woman who wants an abortion and whose general practitioner has certified that she should have one to move to another NHS hospital in another part of the country. In practical terms, that does not happen. The complaint is that in those circumstances, even if she is entitled to an abortion under the law, the woman must move into the private sector.
That being so under one unified law, when we have a separate National Health Service in Scotland, with separate legislation and a separate Assembly and Executive, it is extremely unlikely that, in the event of substantial differences in the law, either Scots women would be able to come to NHS hospitals in England for abortions that they could not obtain in Scotland or that the contrary position could arise for English women if the abortion law were more liberal in Scotland. As a matter of practical NHS administration, that simply would not happen. It does not happen now, even when the law is the same. It does not happen between one area and another that is fairly close. Therefore, I do not believe that in NHS terms a separate law would have the effect of creating a great deal of cross-border traffic. Even if it did, simple administrative steps could be taken by the NHS authorities on either side of the border to prevent it.
I have looked into the matter carefully. I do not believe that on the Health Service side of abortion there would he any really difficult practical consequences of cross-border traffic. If there were, they could easily be accommodated by simple administrative means, perhaps even if necessary by discussions between the Scottish Executive and the administration of the Health Service here in England.
We take the statistics on a resident and non-resident basis. If there were any attempt in the NHS to avoid the provisions of the law, it could easily be taken care of under normal administrative arrangements in the NHS. I repeat that it is not possible at present for any patient desiring hospital treatment for any condition simply to choose his or her hospital in any part of the United Kingdom. This applies not only to abortion but to any kind of treatment.
The introduction to hospitals, to the consultant, is through the general practitioner. It is not open to people simply to choose their hospital anywhere throughout the United Kingdom. We might have slightly less trouble with waiting lists, and so on, if that were the position now, but it is not, and therefore it is a misunderstanding and a misconception to believe that on the NHS side different laws would generate a great deal of cross-border traffic. If they did, the NHS would be perfectly able to cope administratively with the problem, if it did become a problem.
This argument is nonsensical. My right hon. Friend appears to be saying that if someone in need of urgent treatment is resident in an area for two or three weeks—and that will be the position—she cannot obtain it without going back to her own general practitioner, or that administrative arrangements can be introduced which will make that the position. It used to happen all the time in Aberdeen before 1967. My right hon. Friend should remember that.
My hon. Friend is not right about that. In any case, one is not dealing here with emergencies. Emergencies are one thing, but abortion operations are not normally emergencies. If my hon. Friend looks at the statistics on the reasons stated for abortions, he will see that that is so.
The right hon. Gentleman is surely getting into deep water when he says categorically that abortions are not emergencies. I am against abortion anyway, but if the person concerned needs an abortion and has gone to, say, 22 weeks, it becomes a very urgent matter. Of course the abortion becomes urgent.
With respect, the vast majority of abortion operations are not carried out in emergency circumstances. That is a fact. All that I am saying is that if there is a worry that there would be some abuse on the NHS side, if people are worried that there would be cross- border traffic and that one Health Service rather than another would be paying for abortions for people resident in another part of the United Kingdom, my reply is that I do not believe that that would happen in the NHS. In my view, anyone who believes that it would happen does not understand the practical way in which the NHS operates at present, not only for abortions but for hospital treatment generally.
I shall say no more about the NHS. These interruptions are making my speech rather lengthier than I wanted it to be, but I wanted to put that on record as regards the NHS.
There is a difference with private practice. I accept that if there were substantially different legal provisions in Scotland from those in the rest of the United Kingdom there could be cross-border traffic in the private sector for abortions. That is not a matter concerned with Government resources and so on, which I know worried a number of hon. Members the last time we debated the subject. It is a matter strictly for the private sector.
The Scottish Assembly and the Scottish Executive would no doubt have views on the question whether the generation of a cross-border traffic of that kind should be discouraged or penalised, whether special provision should be made in regard to it. I doubt very much whether that would happen in practice. I doubt very much that either the United Kingdom Government with their interest in the Health Service in England, or the Scottish Executive, with its responsibility for the Health Service in Scotland, would believe that if there were cross-border traffic, steps should be taken considerably to discourage it.
There is a good deal of cross-border traffic at present, especially for the reason that I outlined earlier, namely, that despite there being the same law all over the United Kingdom there is in practice a different level of provision in different parts of the United Kingdom. But I must admit that cross-border traffic in the private sector is a possibility.
However, the private sector in the United Kingdom as a whole is tightly controlled in terms of licensing arrangements and authorities for establishments to carry out abortions and the rest. If there were a significant problem that the Scottish Executive or the United Kingdom Government thought required attention, there would be plenty of ways in which the problem could be dealt with in one country or another.
On the NHS side, I do not believe that there is a significant argument for the non-devolution of abortion to the Assembly. On the private sector side, possible difficulties could arise which I believe could be coped with by the Assembly or the United Kingdom Government. But whatever difficulties might arise on the private sector side, if there were difficulties at all, in my view they would not outweigh the principle that on a question of such sensitivity, where views may vary between one Member and another and between one part of the country and another, we are dealing with a subject in respect of which it is very desirable in principle that we should not deny the Assembly the opportunity of taking its own view, which might be different from that of the United Kingdom House of Commons.
On that question of principle, I recommend the House to disagree with the Lords in the amendment.
We are glad that in introducing the Government's position the Secretary of State said that there was to be a free vote on this issue. On the last occasion when we debated this matter there was a clear division among the parties. I confirm that on the Opposition side we, too, regard this as a free vote issue. I therefore hope that hon. Members will look at the issue and come to what they think is the right decision for Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom, should devolution take place.
The Secretary of State was right to say that we are not discussing the merits of the abortion law—whether it would be right to tighten it up or to make it more liberal and permissive. The issue is simply whether the law on abortion should be a United Kingdom law or whether there should be separate laws. Throughout the discussions on this matter both in the House of Lords and in the Commons the Government have not put forward good arguments for the position that they have taken up. Nor have they been able satisfactorily to answer those who disagree with them and who take the view that abortion should be a United Kingdom responsibility.
I am particularly disappointed that once again the Secretary of State failed to make any reference to the views of the British Medical Association, the hospital consultants or others concerned, such as the health boards. When we challenged the Under-Secretary in the Committee debate and asked what the BMA had had to say he explained that he had had a meeting with the BMA the previous day but that it had talked of other matters. Surely, in the interim, it had been possible for the Secretary of State to get some idea of what the BMA, the hospital consultants and the health boards think on this matter.
It would be unfortunate if, on a free vote issue, the House of Commons had to reach a decision without having an indication from the Secretary of State about the representations he has received from those most directly involved. I hope that we can get something from the right hon. Gentleman before we conclude.
What kind of arguments did we have from the Secretary of State in support of the Government's position? They were, frankly, not very convincing or satisfactory. First of all, he put forward the view that it would be strange to devolve the Health Service and not abortion. The right hon. Gentleman knows that because of the amendments which the Government moved, without prejudice, in the Lords, the administration—the carrying out of the abortion law—in Scotland, will be a devolved matter. The only issue is the law itself. That is, therefore, not a very strong argument.
The second argument that the right hon. Gentleman put forward was to the effect that we have different laws on other moral issues. He mentioned in particular capital punishment. It would be perfectly possible, if the Assembly goes forward, for it to have capital punishment as a penalty for murder and for England not to have such a penalty. There is, however, one fundamental difference. If, for example, the Secretary of State decided—and he might be tempted from time to time—to murder the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) in Scotland, and he committed that dreadful deed, he could not and ought not to be tried in England because there might be a more liberal law relating to murder. It is not an issue on which we can opt and say that when a person commits a murder, a traffic offence or anything else, he can go across the border to face trial.
In the same way, the divorce law is entirely different. It is not a question of being able to go across the border and get a divorce. We have long periods of residential qualification. It would not be a simple matter. In these circumstances the issue of abortion is quite different. The example of homosexuality has been mentioned. The Secretary of State must be aware that in this instance, even although we have different laws, the sheer pressure of logic has resulted in a situation in which the practice in Scotland and England is very much the same. Consequently, this question of other issues and other laws being different is not a strong argument.
The third argument put forward by the right hon. Gentleman was to the effect that the fears of some people about cross border traffic were not real and could be disregarded. I doubt very much whether the Secretary of State is right. He got into deep water trying to answer the questions put to him on this. If we have a separate law we could well create a cross border traffic in abortion and see a repetition in Scotland or England of the sad, squalid and unsavoury traffic which took place at one time, involving about 1,000 continentals coming to Britain every week to take advantage of the more liberal abortion laws. Is this likely? Lord Kirkhill, speaking in the other place, made it quite clear that during the discussion on the Bill to amend the abortion legislation there had been a survey of opinion which showed that there was a difference of opinion on abortion north and south of the border. There is, therefore, every likelihood that we could have a difference in the law.
The Secretary of State said that we should not worry too much because an individual cannot select a hospital. A person who goes to a doctor in Glasgow cannot, because of our administrative arrangements, say that he would rather go to a hospital in London, Manchester or Birmingham.
Will the hon. Gentleman explain why he found the situation before the 1967 Act—when there was a difference between English and Scottish law—acceptable and why he finds it acceptable at the moment when there is still a difference? For example, the Infant Life (Preservation) Act 1929 does not apply in Scotland.
The 1967 Act did apply to the United Kingdom, and while there was certainly a difference in practice what we are talking about is the possibility of a fundamental difference in the law. The hon. Member must be aware that this could happen. There are strong bodies of opinion which are proposing far more fundamental changes in the law. The hon. Member will be aware that there is a strong body of opinion which would like to do away with abortion, while there is another strong body of opinion which believes in abortion on demand. Both sides hold strong views. There is a possibility that we could have a major difference in the law between Scotland and England which would lead to problems.
In addition, the Secretary of State said that we should not worry too much because an individual cannot select his hospital. That surely is not the issue. An individual can temporarily go either north or south of the border and get the services of a GP and, thereby, all the other services which flow from that. If the Secretary of State has any doubts about that I refer him to what the Under-Secretary of State said when we quizzed him in Committee.
But people do not do so at the moment and there are different levels of provision. There were 30,000 non-resident abortions in England and Wales in 1977. There were fewer than 20 in Scotland. Secondly, about 850 Scots had abortions in England and Wales last year. That was in the private sector. It does not happen in the National Health Service. There is no cross-border traffic of the sort that is feared by the hon. Gentleman and obviously by others within the NHS. If such a thing were likely to happen it would happen now and that is not the case.
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman is correct. I also hope that
he will look at what his hon. Friend the Under-Secretary said when we quizzed him about this in Committee. He was answering a question put to him by his hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes). He said:
I was coming to that point. My hon. Friend said that he had fears about the possibility … that people might not be able to move back and forth between the various health authority areas in the United Kingdom. There is no possibility that they will not be able to do so."—[Official Report, 11th January 1978; Vol. 941, c. 1816.]
Although the law is the same at present, the Secretary of State must be aware that if we had laws which were substantially different there would be nothing to stop an individual taking up temporary residence in the other country, going to a GP and getting all the consequential treatment. Is the Secretary of State saying, for example, that if a Scots girl went to London, stayed there and visited her GP, she would be denied services which are available under the law of England?
If someone has a perfectly legitimate reason for moving from one part of the country to another of course he receives the full range of medical treatment wherever he goes. What I am trying to say to the House and to the hon. Gentleman—and I wish that he would direct his attention to the real problem, which is in the private sector —is that no one who is denied an abortion in Scotland at the moment will move to England or to Wales, take up temporary residence and get a GP and all that goes with that to get an abortion in an NHS hospital there. What happens in practice is that such a person goes to the private sector. That is what would happen after devolution.
There are problems, I agree. I acknowledged them in my opening remarks. But they are not problems in the National Health Service. That is all I am saying.
The Secretary of State must be well aware that going to the private sector for an abortion is not something that is open to the majority of the population. It is very expensive indeed, and it is certainly not available to many of those who are seeking abortion. The Secretary of State may squirm, but he cannot dodge this, because he said that there could be a problem. He said that of course someone can go elsewhere. He must face this question and give straight answers. He said "If there were a problem, we could take administrative steps to stop it." What administrative steps has he in mind? Has he in mind, for example, that anyone going to a general practitioner would be asked "Are you a Scot?" or "Are you English?" Is the Secretary of State suggesting that if a doctor makes a referral to a hospital or to a social worker, the same question should be asked? The Secretary of State cannot continue to dodge this.
Under the United Kingdom law we already take the information about residence; therefore these so-called administrative problems are not problems at all. The problem is not within the National Health Service. I must continue to repeat that.
The Secretary of State is right in saying that the problem is not within the National Health Service at the present time, but there was a substantial difference between the law of Scotland and England, and it would be a problem in the National Health Service unless he took his so-called administrative steps to deal with it. I am asking him to say what these administrative steps would be. Will he go further than the Bill and say that there will not be the same right of equal treatment north and south of the border?
The Secretary of State is giving the impression that this is not a problem. Suppose that we had, for the sake of argument, a Bill passed in the Scottish Assembly to introduce what we might loosely call tight abortion laws. Suppose, further, that in England the position were a lot easier, or more liberal, or more permissive, depending on the word that is used. Is the Secretary of State saying that it would not be possible for a girl from Glasgow to take up temporary residence in London and to get her rights under English law from the National Health Service in England? Unless we are to erect a genuine barrier and to say that people shall not have the same rights in the NHS north and south of the border, this problem could well arise.
The Secretary of State is right in saying that at the present time it is mainly a private sector problem, but he must face the fact that, if there were a substantial difference in the law north and south of the border, this would become a very major problem indeed. He cannot deny it.
Why does not the Secretary of State give us the views of the British Medical Association? Is the BMA as confident, satisfied and complacent as he seems to be about the problem, or is it not the case that the BMA is very concerned indeed about the Government's proposals?
In support of the question that my hon. Friend asked the Secretary of State, can he guarantee that there would not be a traffic if there were a fundamental difference in the law? Can he explain why before 1967, when there was an absolute and fundamental difference between the law of Scotland and the law of England, such a traffic did not occur?
I will tell my hon. Friend what the law was before 1967. The law of abortion in Scotland was the same as the law relating to all other medicine. Abortion was an operation which a doctor, if he thought it appropriate, could carry out without fear of a criminal charge of assault. That was the common law of Scotland. The law of England, under two Acts, was very restrictive. If that is not a fundamental difference, what is?
I think that my hon. and learned Friend will accept, on the basis of the statistics of abortions north and south of the border, that before the 1967 Act the number of abortions carried out in Scotland was very limited indeed, irrespective of what he may say about law and practice.
Perhaps the Secretary of State, in addition to dealing with the question that I have put to him, will say whether he thinks that there is any ground at all for the other argument that he has put forward. I believe, and those directly con- cerned in the profession believe, that if we have a separate law, or the possibility of that, or if we make provision for a separate law on abortion north and south of the border, we may create a very dangerous situation and a possible shambles.
It is because abortion is a subject on which we have strong individual views that the Conservative Opposition consider it appropriate to have a free vote, but I think that the Secretary of State has a duty to answer some straight questions before we vote on the issue. First, what is the view of the BMA, the health boards and the consultants? Will he tell the House? Secondly, what precisely did the Secretary of State mean by the administrative steps which could be taken in the national health sector to stop what he referred to as the possibility of abuse?
Either people have the right to obtain treatment north and south of the border without restriction, as the Under-Secretary of State said in a previous debate, or they do not. It is a red herring for the Secretary of State to talk about choosing one's hospital. That is not the issue. If there were separate laws, individuals north and south of the border would be entitled, by means of taking up temporary residence, to obtain full facilities and full benefit.
I believe that the right answer in this case is to make provision for a uniform law on abortion both north and south of the border for the United Kingdom. Let us make the decision, according to our respective views. As we know, there are those who want to tighten the law and those who want to loosen it. But if we go ahead and have the possibility of a major divergence between Scotland and England we may not only create administrative and social problems; I believe that we may create the basis of very real conflict between Scotland and England.
It is not often that I rise to agree fully with the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor) and to disagree with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. Indeed, it is not often that I rise to agree with the BMA, because there are, I understand, profound reservations in the medical profession about what the Government have proposed. I confess that I am perhaps the moving spirit, if I may put it in that way, behind the Lords amendments, and it is not often that I agree with another place either; therefore this is a rare occurrence for me.
As I have indicated, I do not accept the arguments put forward by my right hon. Friend today. The argument that legislation on abortion is on all fours with other legislation on medical matters seems to me to be absurd. No one will change the law on tonsillectomy or appendectomy, or on any other medical matter, save in the areas that we regard as being as much moral as medical. This is a unique issue, and it is absurd to argue that this is on all fours with the rest of the National Health Service.
When my right hon. Friend says that there will be no abortion trafficking, I simply do not believe this to be the case. It used to occur when the laws were different. It did not occur to any great extent, perhaps, but I know that it used to occur. I have often heard it said in England more than 10 years ago that Aberdeen was the abortion capital of the realm. That was an indication of the way in which the Scottish law was interpreted in Aberdeen.
I believe that there is bound to be abortion trafficking, and I believe that it will happen under the National Health Service as well as in the private sector. There is no dissent about its happening in the private sector. I was very disturbed to hear my right hon. Friend suggest this afternoon, apparently, that if his argument were correct, and trafficking could not happen in the NHS, there was not a very serious problem. Most of us on the Labour Benches do not believe that we should change the law in such a way that people in whichever country, England or Scotland, with the power of the purse can procure an abortion, while those who have not the power of the purse are unable to do so. I think it would have been better if my right hon. Friend had not put forward his argument—particularly towards his hon. Friends—concerning the NHS.
I heard the speech from my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State to which the hon. Member for Cathcart referred. My hon. Friend said exactly the words that the hon. Gentleman quoted. My hon. Friend gave the House a solemn assurance that there would be parity of treatment in either country, for any resident of the other country, with that which would have obtained in that resident's own country for any disease, ailment or necessity. No reservation was expressed on that occasion by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State.
When my right hon. Friend says "In this case we can block off the danger by administrative means", I must say that I find these Kafkaesque phrases very disturbing. By what administrative means are we proposing to change the law of the land? That is the task of this place, not the task of Secretaries of State or of the Scottish Executive. Therefore, I do not think that that is a very winning argument either.
I have become more disturbed, rather than less, as this debate has progressed. As my right hon. Friend knows, in my case it has nothing to do with not trusting the Scots. We have had that argument before. As he knows, among English Labour Members I have been the arch-exponent of devolution. I trust the Scots totally. But what I do not believe is that it makes sense to have two different laws on this issue on each side of the border. We could have either a restrictive change or a liberalising or permissive change in England. There does not have to be a change in the law in Scotland. The law in Scotland could remain the same. Either way, it encourages people to move in order to evade the law in their own country of residence. To my mind, that brings the law in both countries into disrepute, and that is why I hope that the House will agree with the Lords in this amendment.
Several times in his speech the Secretary of State made a very important statement of principle. Although the debate is to be concluded by a free vote on both sides of the House, the principle which he asserted, he asserted as a principle which the Government as a Government maintain and which, therefore, presumably carries the collective responsibility of his colleagues. That principle is that it was not merely acceptable, but even desirable, that on such a subject as this the law should not be uniform throughout the United Kingdom. The Secretary of State mentioned other subjects in this connection. As has been mentioned, one was capital punishment, but another was the law relating to homosexuality. No doubt he would include the law relating to divorce.
This is an assertion of particular importance to right hon. and hon. Gentlemen representing constituencies in Northern Ireland. I assume that the Secretary of State will have taken his colleague the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland into consultation, because this Session we have seen the Government impose by order upon Northern Ireland the law in relation to divorce, a law made in the rest of the United Kingdom by free vote on a private Member's motion. The Government have done this on the ground that it was a necessity of public policy, and inherently desirable, that the law in that respect should be uniform throughout the United Kingdom.
That is a proposition which it will not be possible again to pray in aid. For example, when we come to consider the law relating to homosexuality, it will not be possible for the Government to propose to change the law in Northern Ireland on that matter by order, that is to say, upon the Government's responsibility with the Whips on, on the ground that on these subjects the law ought to be uniform throughout the United Kingdom.
This debate primarily concerns Scotland, but the principle enunciated over and over again was enunciated as a United Kingdom principle. The Secretary of State did not refer to Great Britain, he referred to the United Kingdom. I take only a moment or two of the time of the House to draw the attention of the House to the far-reaching consequences of the principle on this sort of subject which the Secretary of State has asserted in the House this afternoon.
I want to refer for a moment to a remark made by my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Fowler), when he went out of his way to say that he was the great arch-exponent of devolution. I remember the speech that he made yesterday, when he said that he was very much in favour of devolution and democracy. The speech that he has made this afternoon flew in the face of that. He was saying that he was in favour of devolution, but was not prepared to concede the right of the Scots to determine their own law in relation to abortion.
I take completely the opposite view, both on devolution and on democracy. I believe that once the die is cast, once one gets the Assembly, it has a perfect right to determine what Scottish opinion will be on abortion, on homosexuality, on capital punishment and on all these moral and religious issues, and then legislate accordingly. Whether or not the law is contrary to what the law is south of the border. That is what this debate is about. If we are not prepared to accept differences, what on earth are we discussing? The whole point of this Bill is to create differences. It is to enable the Scots to be different, and they were different before the 1967 Act. I do not think that the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor) appreciates the enormous difference.
When we had the debate on the Wolfenden report on various social matters, the Scots did not realise that their law was fundamentally different from, and very often better and more liberal than, the English law. Those of us representing Scottish constituencies frequently received letters saying "Keep us out of it." We had to explain that we were not even in it. The SPUC organisation in Scotland did not realise, and I do not think that it yet realises, that before 1967 the law in Scotland was more liberal than the 1967 Act itself.
I say to the hon. Member for Cathcart that his speech was devoted entirely to his contempt of Scottish opinion. He was saying that the Scots were not fit to take their own decisions on a matter such as abortion, and that that decision had to remain down here. Why should it? Public opinion in Scotland can be different. Traditions can be different in Scotland. Why should not that be reflected in their legislation? My goodness, the hon. Gentleman called in aid the views of the BMA. When the BMA recommends things, we Labour Members begin to suspect. Our reaction is completely different. Had we accepted the views of the BMA, there would never have been a National Health Service at all. When the Health Service was instituted in the first instance, it was in the teeth of opposition from the BMA. Therefore, let not the hon. Gentleman pray in aid the views of the BMA in this or in any other matter. We, as politicians, have the right to make these decisions. Of course, we listen to the views of the BMA, the consultants and everyone else. But we are sent here to take decisions in the light of all the information that we get.
I come to the question of cross-border traffic. I must express my alarm at what my right hon. Friend said about the inability of a patient within the Health Service to go where he likes within the Health Service. Geographically and financially, all other considerations restrict that right. Nevertheless, it is the case that even now women from various parts of Scotland where abortion law is practised restrictively come down to hospitals in London, where the law is less restrictive, to get their treatment, and not only in the private sector. If one knows the right doctors or the right consultants, one will get one's abortion in an NHS hospital in London. I do not know whether there are any statistics—
Then my right hon. Friend will know that Scottish women who have been unable to get abortions in Scottish NHS hospitals have come down to London to get an abortion within an NHS hospital. I applaud their right to come down if they so wish. Be that as it may, the abuses are now occurring in the private sector, and they will occur whether or not we pass a different law on abortion in Scotland. The private sector will exist whether the law is comparable on the two sides of the border, and it is up to each of the Governments —Parliament down here and the Assembly in Scotland—to deal with those abuses as they arise. Again, they will decide themselves how to deal with these matters.
Basically, I agree with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that, it having been decided to set up an Assembly and that it shall be elected by the Scots, the Scots have a perfect right to decide their own abortion law. I hope that their abortion law will be at least as liberal as that south of the border, and I suspect that it will be more so.
I agree with the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton), and I think that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Mr. Fairbairn) was right to draw attention to the very fundamental difference which existed between Scotland and England and Wales before the passage of the 1967 Act.
My constituency lies in the area of what is now the Grampian health board. It was at that time in the area of the Aberdeen hospitals board, and for hospital treatment my constituents came under that area. For abortion and all other gynaecological matters they came under the influence of Sir Dugald Baird, to whom we owe a great debt for his very high social aims as well as for what he achieved in his expertise as a doctor and physician.
We had this difference before, and we existed with that difference. Earlier in the debate, I heard one hon. Member describe Aberdeen as the abortion capital of Europe. It was never that. The practice was quite different in Aberdeen because of the difference in Scottish law. But it never became the abortion capital of Europe. That underlines what the Secretary of State said, because even if there are differences they do not necessarily bring the kind of result which my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow. Cathcart (Mr. Taylor) tried to persuade us would happen.
Basing the argument purely on what happened when the abortion law was different in different parts of the United Kingdom, I can contemplate with confidence a different abortion law in different parts of the United Kingdom in the future.
Does not my hon. Friend accept that at that time the awareness was very much less? People did not realise that the difference existed. Therefore, the effect on numbers was very small.
I disagree with my hon. Friend. Why was Aberdeen described as the abortion capital of Europe if people did not understand that there was a difference? The difference was recognised. I remember having to defend it to colleagues in this House and to others, and, therefore, I do not think that that is true.
When we had this difference in the law —and this again is one of the reasons why I defend the Bill as it was originally drafted, allowing for a difference between Scotland and England and Wales—and the right hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel) introduced his Bill which became the 1967 Act, it was introduced in a way which changed the law completely and in many ways got it wrong because it moved too far from one position to a new one.
Under Scottish law and under the common law of Scotland, we were able to see certain changes taking place. We were able to see certain different practices in moral matters—and I accept that abortion is not only a medical matter; it is a moral one as well. We saw these changes taking place because the basic law was different in Scotland from that in England and Wales. I believe that we would have moved more generally in Scotland—and not just in Aberdeen—to a more liberal law in relation to abortion without requiring dramatic changes in legislation. Then the law would have followed to some extent what was a natural movement in the desire of people to sec a change in the law. The position in Scotland allowed that to happen. That was one of the advantages of having this difference in Scotland.
We are dealing with moral issues, and again this is demonstrated in relation to sexual offences. Homosexuality is another area where in Scotland we have seen growing up certain practices. England had to legislate to cope with them, whereas under the law of Scotland these practices were allowed and did not become a criminal offence with the law as it was at the time. Without trying to be facetious, I might point out that, in the period before England changed its law with the Sexual Offences Act, I do not think that any people moved from England and Wales to Scotland because the law happened to be different in Scotland.
I come back to the fundamental position, which is very much the same as that taken up by the hon. Member for Fife, Central. If we are having an Assembly, which, unlike the hon. Member, I support, I believe that we should give the Assembly the freedom to decide its own policy and its own legislation in these matters. This is important not only because the Assembly should have its freedom but because of the different legal systems in Scotland and in England and Wales. They have worked in the past. We must recognise this in the future.
Moral issues such as this are matters about which people feel strongly. I believe that people in Scotland, through their Assembly, should have the opportunity to express their views on these moral issues in their own legislation rather than legislating in a blanket way for the whole of the United Kingdom.
One of the reasons why we have the pressure for devolution and for an Assembly is that there is a demand not only in Scotland but in the United Kingdom for variety in the way we treat different problems in the United Kingdom. We want variety in this as in other matters in the laws that we pass with respect to moral issues and our views on them. Therefore, I believe that the Government should be supported in their proposal to reject this Lords amendment.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) and the hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns (Mr. Buchanan-Smith), I shall be voting to devolve abortion at the end of this debate. I shall do so because of my general prejudice that this is the sort of issue which ought properly to be within the remit of the Assembly.
I recognise that abortion is an issue which raises very strong emotions, and I recognise the genuine anxieties advanced by hon. Members on the subject of cross-border traffic. For all that, however, looking at the legislative shape of the Assembly's remit, it is very difficult to chip abortion out of it in any coherent or logical way and leave it as some sort of constitutional flotsam on the agenda of the Secretary of State for Scotland in this House. I might say in passing that if it is to remain in this House, it ought logically to go to a Minister of Health rather than stay with the Secretary of State. However, that is another issue.
My main objective is to reiterate the argument that in this area of health or crime—it seems to me that abortion can be looked at in terms of a criminal offence or in terms of health—it seems properly to be a devolved function. After all, we have in schedule 10 all of the National Health Service and family planning. To remove abortion seems to be to leave it floating in a sort of limbo.
I cannot agree with my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Fowler) when he asks who, after all, would want to make different laws for tonsilitis or appendicitis. It is not a fair parallel. A much fairer parallel was made in the House of Lords—namely, that abortion is a crime in the context of which this argument is being conducted and that the criminal law of Scotland has also been devolved to the Assembly. Therefore, on whichever side of the line it is placed—even if it is right on the line—it falls essentially in the functions which should be devolved to Edinburgh.
Will the hon. Member comment on what was said about the effect of having a different law in this matter—that British citizens would be forbidden administratively to move to a part of the United Kingdom in order to benefit from a different law.
It does not mean that it would be administratively forbidden. What the Secretary of State said was that if there was cross-border traffic which was causing alarm—he suggested, with good reason, that this might turn out to be an illusory fear—and if that fear came in a particularly acute and substantial form, it would be a matter on which this place and the Assembly could get together to see what solutions could be found. It is really pushing the boat out too far for the hon. and learned Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Mr. Fairbairn) to say that inevitably this kind of administrative action would follow.
The fault of the arguments of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor) was basically that we have had over a long period a fundamental difference in the law between Scotland and England. This was the case long before 1967. It did not cause a great deal of anxiety and distortion then. Since 1967 we have had the Abortion Act. This gives a common framework, but even then there has been a difference in the law north and south of the border.
For example, there is the Infant Life (Preservation) Act 1929, which has had some peripheral effect in England on the law of abortion. One of the central arguments over abortion at present is the 28 weeks' termination and whether it should be reduced to 20 weeks. In England that is a relevant argument, but in Scotland it is relevant in a quite different way. At present there is no 28-week limit in Scotland. If one has an abortion, which has been sanctioned under the 1967 Act, it can be done in the twenty-ninth or thirtieth week. That might be unlikely, but I use it as an example of the fact that even at present the laws are very substantially different in Scotland.
I cannot see why at the end of the day it should be so wrong for the Scottish Assembly to have charge of abortion. Whether it makes a good job of it when it gets down to work is something that we could all argue about. But why should it be wrong for the Assembly to have responsibility for abortion when it is right that it should have responsibility for criminal law generally and for areas such as homosexual law reform?
The point was made by the hon. Member for Cathcart that the fundamental difference between the law north and south of the border was one that could not be contemplated as an administrative strategem. An agreement about prosecution policy has been brought in in Scotland to bridge the gap between English and Scots law. I agree that it may well be that the Assembly, looking at abortion, might say that there would be dangers in opening up gaps between England and Scotland, and for that reason it would not follow certain lines that were urged upon it by pressure groups on one side or other of the argument. I would expect the Assembly to give great weight to that. Probably it will be an important factor in the debates leading to a final decision in the Assembly.
To say, however, that that is something of which the Assembly must have cognisance is not a conclusive argument for saying that it should not have legislative competence in this field. I agree that devolution is about giving to the people of Scotland, through their elected representatives, the right to choose in certain devolved areas. If one of those areas is the criminal law and another is the Health Service, to take out something that is central to those areas and leave it as some sort of odd tag end at Westminster is ill advised and unfortunate.
I suspect that I shall disagree with what is done in the Scottish Assembly. But, as someone who believes strongly in devolution, I shall have to try to win the arguments back home in Scotland. The fact that we may disagree with the Assembly is not a reason for saying that we should retreat from the devolution principle, which this amendment seeks to do.
With the leave of the House I shall take a few moments to answer some of the points that have been raised in this debate. On the question of principle, I do not believe that the arguments point in any way—and I have heard nothing this afternoon to convince me otherwise—other than to allowing these matters to be decided by the Scottish Assembly.
The fact that these are matters of controversy, and that there may be differences of view between one part of the United Kingdom and another, makes it all the more desirable that, when Scotland has a democratically elected Assembly with legislative powers, it should be able to make up its own mind about the law of abortion as it relates to Scotland. I stand by that principle, and I do not believe it has been seriously questioned by anything that any hon. Members have said today.
Today's arguments have all been about the practical consequences of the differences between the law as it applies north and south of the border. But it has been pointed out that we had these differences in the law in the past and they have not given rise to all the difficulties that hon. Members seem to fear.
There is a good deal of myth about what happened in Scotland before the 1967 Act. I was glad to hear the hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) explode the myth that Aberdeen was the great abortion centre of the United Kingdom. That just was not so.
The number of abortions in the old north-east regional board area is not the highest in Scotland. Thus, there is a good deal of myth making about the whole business of abortion. That is why in principle I believe that it is a matter for the Assembly to decide.
Even on the practical side, I do not believe that there will be any substantial difficulties arising either now or in the future for the National Health Service. In any case, the actual practice of abortion in Scotland at present is substantially different from that in England. I shall give some figures to demonstrate the absurdity of the fears that have been expressed today.
In England and Wales in 1977, out of 133,000 abortions more than 80,000 took place in the private sector. In Scotland, out of a total of 7,283 abortions only 195 were performed in the private sector. That is what happens with one law in the United Kingdom. The divergence could not be more acute.
The total number of non-residents of Scotland who had abortions in that country was only 18 in 1977. In England and Wales, however, 30,762 non-residents had abortions. Again, the actual working of the legislation is entirely different in Scotland from its working in England and Wales. This has something to do with the different background, social conditions and attitudes of Scotland compared with the rest of the United Kingdom. It also has something to do with the different organisation of the Health Service and the lower proportion of medical care provided by the private sector. All these differences are there now, even with one law applying to the whole of the United Kingdom.
Given these massive differences now, it does not seem sensible to say that, because there is the possibility of difficulties over cross-border traffic, which could arise in any case only in the private sector if the laws between Scotland and England were substantially different, that should he allowed to outweigh the general principle that the Scottish Assembly, in the light of Scottish opinion, should decide this matter for itself.
I believe that it would be a substantial derogation of devolution in an area in which there are strong feelings, and where it is legitimate that these feelings should have different legislative expression, if we were to deny the Scottish Assembly the ability to make up its mind on this difficult issue.
It is for these reasons of principle, but taking account of the practical situation—
In page 61, column 2, leave out lines 32 to 41 and insert—
'Not included, except so far as relating to the insulation of buildings near aerodromes against aircraft noise and vibration and except for—
The amendment was tabled in another place by Lord Boyd-Carpenter and Lord Campbell of Croy and was passed by a majority of 27 votes. The Government moved amendments on Report to tidy up the Bill following the removal of aerodromes from part I of schedule 10. I should make clear that this was done without prejudice to anything the Government might do subsequently to restore aerodromes to the list of devolved matters. This, basically, is what we now seek to do.
The Government believe that it is right that the Assembly should have responsibilities for aerodromes in Scotland as part of its wide-ranging responsibilities for communications, transport and physical infrastructure. To deny this matter would create a gap which could affect its ability to plan transport services in a co-ordinated way.
The Government consider that the Assembly should be given the powers to establish and maintain aerodromes, including those owned by local authorities, and also the power to acquire land for use as aerodromes and other ancilliary functions such as making byelaws. As regards the management of aerodromes, the Assembly should take over ministerial powers in relation to local authority and privately owned aerodromes immediately the relevant provisions of the Scotland Bill come into force.
The British Airports Authority and the Civil Aviation Authority are a different matter. Between them they manage a substantial number of the aerodromes in Scotland. In the Government's view, to deny the Assembly any responsibilities in respect of these bodies would be to hamper its ability to create a coherent policy towards aerodromes and towards transport in general, but the Government recognise that these bodies have invaluable experience in running airports and regard it as important that the Assembly should have the opportunity to benefit from that experience. So the Government propose that devolution of powers in respect of these bodies should be delayed until the Assembly, the authorities themselves and the Government have had an opportunity to discuss arrangements. This effect can be achieved by listing the authorities in schedule 13 and thereby making them subject to a clause 64 order. Such an order has to be requested by the Assembly and may be made only after consultations with the body concerned. The order has to be made by the Secretary of State and is subject to affirmative resolution in both Houses of Parliament.
That outlines the Government's view of what should be devolved to the Assembly. There remain the matters which could be held to be included in the term aerodromes but for which the Government do not think the Assembly should have responsibility. These include, in particular, the regulation-making powers of the Civil Aviation Authority in respect of aerodromes, the policing of airports and the control of pollution from aircraft. This latter matter includes the control of aircraft noise, although the Government think it right that the Assembly should have the power to create schemes for the insulation of buildings in the vicinity of aerodromes affected by the use of such aerodromes.
I hope that this explanation makes clear that we are, broadly, talking about the devolution of powers in respect of an aerodrome itself and its management. The Assembly's responsibilities will not, for example, extend to related but separate matters such as flight safety or air traffic control, which are best dealt with on a uniform basis throughout Great Britain.
The Government believe that this represents a satisfactory division of responsibilities between those matters essentially of concern to the people of Scotland and those which have wider implications and which it is proposed to reserve. The Government therefore ask the House to disagree with amendment no. 131.
Before concluding, I should make clear the Government's view on the other amendments under discussion. We disagree with amendment no. 144 which removes the entry in part II of schedule 10 which reserved the regulatory role of the Civil Airports Authority in relation to aerodromes; and the protection of aircraft and aerodromes against acts of violence. We also disagree with amendments nos. 155, 170, 183, 195, 198, 217, 219 and 226.
In asking the House to reinstate aerodromes, I should mention that the Government amendments will make the Bill technically correct in its treatment of aircraft noise. It is the Government's policy, as I mentioned earlier, that the Assembly should have the power to create schemes for the insulation of buildings near aerodromes, but that it should have no powers in relation to the control of noise, pollution or vibration. The Bill as it left this House did not achieve this result. The three Government amendments, one of which is in respect of the Civil Aviation Act 1978, put this right.
Noise pollution or the level of noise is a reserved matter. That comes under the 1978 Act. It has been reserved on a United Kingdom basis. It is felt that matters such as flight control, air traffic control and flight safety are better dealt with on an all-Britain basis than devolved. In fairness to my hon. Friend, I should say that he has it right.
I rise to disagree with the Government and to express the hope that even at this late hour the House will agree with the amendments that were made in another place.
I am genuinely surprised that the Government have tried to press their point of view in dealing with the amendments. If any amendments were made in another place that the Government were able to accept without any detectable damage to the principle of their Bill, surely the amendments before us are in that category. I hope to be able to explain why I take that view in a fairly short time.
Let us consider the principal aim of the Bill. Surely the object is to devolve to the Assembly those matters that are clearly of a local Scottish significance to those in Scotland alone, or largely to those in Scotland. The whole purpose of the Bill is to bring decision-making on such matters that affect the Scottish people within a Scottish forum where they can make their decisions.
We are concerned with a part of air transport. It is a part but only a part. It seems self-evidently a subject that involves a much wider forum than the interests of people within Scotland, businesses within Scotland or the affairs of Scotland alone. There are differences of degree even within air transport. There are air services that are entirely internal to Scotland. If the proposal had been to devolve only those parts of the running of airports, I could have seen some logic in it. However, the devolving of responsibility for airports, the bulk of the traffic of which consists of services that come from without Scotland, whether from London, Manchester or places in Europe and elsewhere, seems to be a complete negation of the whole principle of devolution. That is so whether we are pro-devolution or very much against it. I am surprised that Ministers have decided that they cannot give way on this issue.
Their Lordships made a powerful case in a short debate. It is necessary to turn to some of the arguments that were deployed and to some of the details which I hope were deployed within the Government before their decision was put before us.
Air travel goes beyond our interests in Scotland. The majority of the services that we use come into and out of Scotland from elsewhere. Many of them are connected with international air transport agreements. They go far wider than the consideration of British interests alone. They have to be arranged by negotiation with outside countries. Scotland is not a party to those negotiations and will not be a party even after the Bill is enacted. It may be for that reason that the Government have made it clear that they are not proposing to devolve air services. There is no question of that happening. That must be why they have confined devolution only to the management of airports.
What principle are the Government adopting? When I gave that question consideration, it struck me straight away that the principle that they might be following is that the infrastructure of transport in Scotland should be devolved. The Under-Secretary of State touched on what I imagine is the basis of the argument. It may be the Government's view that the infarstructure of transport should he devolved, even if the operation of it is not included. However, the hon. Gentleman has not begun to follow that principle.
We have the proposal that the management of airports should be devolved as part of the infrastructure of transport, but no one has suggested devolving the infrastructure of the railways. I see no difference in principle between the infrastructure of the railways and that of airports, apart from their being different modes of transport. No one has suggested devolving the infrastructure of the docks, except for the smaller ports dealing with Scottish ferry services, agriculture or fisheries alone. No one has suggested devolving the infrastructure of the Glasgow, Clyde or Forth port docks, which are part of the infrastructure of transport. Therefore, it cannot be the Government's principle that the infrastructure of transport should be devolved. That completely demolishes the Minister's argument that it is necessary for these matters to be devolved so that the Assembly is able to co-ordinate decision making on the infrastructure of transport. That is not to be within the Assembly's power under the Government's proposals.
I am following the hon. Gentleman's argument with interest as it is of some importance to my constituency. Will he tell us what is his interpretation, group 10 of schedule 10, which states:
Provision of public passenger and freight transport services within Scotland",
is a devolved matter?
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for making that intervention as it gives me courage to think that he was as puzzled as I was after reading that part of the schedule.
It seems that there is some ambiguity in group 10 in respect of air transport. It seems that if we are to take the wording literally it could apply to the provision of public passenger transport by rail as well as by road. As far as I know, it is common ground that the Government are not proposing to devolve the operations of the railways. I cannot help the right hon. Gentleman by giving my definition. However, I, too, have been puzzled by the wording of the schedule. I do not know how much or how little it includes. I hope that the Minister will be able to give us an explanation.
I shall not go into the details of considering whether it is better to run airports locally or to have them run by a large national organisation. We have considered that issue on many occasions and I remember making my maiden speech on the introduction of the Airports Authority Act 1965, which set up the airports authority in the first place.
The fashionable view of 15 years ago was that it was an excellent idea to have as many airports as possible run by municipalities. That has not proved to be an outstandingly successful method. We have been retreating from it in recent years and have tended to run airports in larger units because of the benefits that are alleged to stem from that. It is my position that there are those benefits.
The British Airports Authority runs the four main airports in Scotland and those in the United Kingdom while the Civil Aviation Authority runs, extremely efficiently, the eight smaller Highlands and Islands airports in Scotland. Both authorities do an excellent job in their own way. They are both big enough to offer a career structure and efficient management services. They are both able to do this in different ways which seem to give satisfaction to customers.
We approach this strange part of the Bill from the position that the running of airports in Scotland appears to be generally satisfactory to customers. From my experience of the Highlands and Islands and of the British Airports Authority airports, including Prestwick, I believe that they do a good job.
The airports consultative committees which represent all the British Airports Authority airports have been asked for their views. Although I have not personally communicated with each of them, I understand that all the consultative committees say that they do not wish airports to be devolved in the way proposed in the Bill.
I have a letter from an airport consultative committee which says that it regards the proposition as intolerable and urges us to use all our influence to ensure that civil aviation is excluded from the Bill.
I am grateful to the hon. Member. Perhaps the Minister will confirm that all the airport consultative committees have expressed such a view. It is important that we should know. If so, the Government are going ahead against the advice not only of the Lords but of the consultative committees and the airports users.
As was discovered 10 to 15 years ago when airports were handed over to the municipalities, the running of airports is not something that comes by nature. It is a technical and difficult business. Expertise is required. In order to attract decent staff and experts, the organisation must be large enough to offer a career structure. Many of the technical services associated with the running of airports cannot be provided on an individual basis. That is why certain parts are not being devolved. I refer to the air traffic control services, which will continue to be covered centrally, and the policing of airports, which was recently handed over to the local police forces. These services will not be devolved.
We are left with a vitally important part of the running of airports—the function of marketing. More and more, that is part of the job of effective airport management. Much of the British Airports Authority management time is devoted to the skill of marketing and of attracting traffic to some airports and, in the case of Heathrow and others, of trying to divert traffic. It is essential that all these functions should be based as widely as possible. An overall view is essential.
We need a large spread of airports run by the same authority so that deals can be worked out with foreign countries and with this country's airlines, so that off-peak traffic, air training traffic and charter traffic go to the airports which are under-used and at times of the day when they are under-used. This requires a sophisticated policy involving the tailoring of landing fees and special arrangements for different customers. I can see no advantage in breaking up this system and in devolving it to a new and inexperienced legislature the main concern of which is the internal running of part of the United Kingdom. At present we have two skilled and national organisations—the British Airports Authority and the Civil Aviation Authority—which have a widespread experience and a wider view than that which involves Scotland alone.
Lord McCluskey and the Minister of State said that there were other reasons for having a close link between the Assembly and the airports. They both mentioned tourism and planning. Of course, many tourists go through airports and much of the traffic during the summer is provided by tourists. The Minister, however, has taken the greatest care not to devolve air services, which is the main aspect of airline work with which the tourist boards are concerned. They are concerned not with the infrastructure of the airports but with the services. If tourism is so important, what about the railways? What could be more important to tourism than the railways? But no one suggests that they should be devolved. Overseas tourism will not be devolved.
The argument about planning is even more absurd. The argument is that it is more desirable that planning applications for the building or extending of airports should be handled by the political authorities which are already responsible for the running of airports. That is a negation of what we wish to see
One of the good things about the controversies over the development of airports is the dialogue between different Ministries. At least two Ministries were involved in the controversy over Edinburgh airport. If such a controversy were to take place with the Scottish Assembly in charge both of the application and of the running of the airport, the ultimate decision would be made by the same authority as made the original plan. I do not believe that there is any advantage in that. I do not say that it cannot be worked, but there is no advantage in it.
The Government are unsure. I cannot understand why they did not take the opportunity to give way on this matter. It would have damaged the Bill not one jot or tittle. The Government are so unsure that they have not even written the proposition into the Bill. All that the Bill does is to make the proposition possible. It makes it possible for the airport management to be handed over to the Assembly if the Assembly, the airports authorities and the Government of the day decide that it is a good idea.
The case is made. The proposition might work and there might be arguments for implementing it, but there are no overwhelming arguments in favour of it. There are a considerable number of reservations. Many people, including the airport consultative committees, the users of the airports, certainly the House of Lords and possibly a majority in this House believe that this is a misguided part of the Bill, whatever their views on the rest of the Bill.
If reason is to prevail at any point, the Government could gain a great deal of kudos by acknowledging that there is not an overwhelming case for this suggestion and that it should be abandoned. I hope that we shall agree with the Lords.
I rise in the hope that before the debate ends the Government will make the matter clearer. I start from the view that if we have to have devolution the Scottish Assembly should have some authority over nationalised industries. Without that the Assembly will find itself in great difficulties, and there will be considerable conflict between Edinburgh and Westminster.
From reading group 10 in schedule 10 it would appear that the Assembly has some authority at least over what the hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger) described as the infrastructure. Group 10 reads:
Provision of public passenger and freight transport services within Scotland. Payment of subsidies to operators of such services within Scotland.
These are devolved matters.
That would appear to me to mean that it will be a matter for the Assembly to decide what funds are to be made available for new airports or airport extensions. It will also, I imagine, be for the Assembly to take on the responsibility of paying subsidies—for instance, the large annual subsidy to MacBrayne. That, I think, will now come under the Assembly and will not be paid out of the Exchequer. I should like to have that clear, however, because like the hon. Member for Ayr I had understood that the nationalised industries were to remain a non-devolved subject.
Perhaps I may clear that matter now with the right hon. Gentleman. The section of the Bill to which the right hon. Gentleman is referring—group 10 in schedule 10—has to be read in conjunction with paragraph 8 in part II of the schedule, which reads
Provision of air services, provision of freight transport services by road (other than by the Scottish Transport Group or any body directly or indirectly replacing it) and provision of railway services by the British Railways Board. Payments, in respect of public freight services, of subsidies—
These matters are not devolved. If the right hon. Gentleman will read that paragraph in conjunction with group 10 I am sure that the matter will be crystal clear to him.
The matter is clearer, but I would not say that it was crystal clear. The schedule could have been better drafted. I understand that the subsidies will be a matter for the Assembly.
I want to be sure that licensing will remain with the Civil Aviation Authority. I imagine that the question of security at airports and the general running of airports will so remain. There may be some confusion if those areas are the responsibility of the CAA, but the Assembly will have the power, as I understand it, to extend existing airports or to build new ones. I should have thought that further explanation was needed on the question whether there is not a real danger of confusion in that respect.
Who will be responsible for air ambulances once the Bill becomes law?
If the Assembly wants to take over the airports and so forth, will it be open to the Assembly, if it is so inclined, to subsidise or promote new airlines and new air services in Scotland?
Let us be clear that at stake here is the dismantling, no less, of the integrated system of airports in this country. What kind of sense does it make to disintegrate a system within a relatively small island? It makes no sense. The notion is barmy, and I suspect that Ministers know precisely how barmy it is; otherwise, why on earth should they have chosen to institute a request procedure in order that the Assembly could come forward with this whole rigmarole? The Government want to put the buck for muddle permanently with the Assembly, and that I understand perfectly well.
I do not know why the hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger) was so puzzled. I can explain quite simply why the Government have done what they have. It is part of the frenetic, frantic search for something for the Assembly to do. We need look no further. The objective is to find a job for 150 Assemblymen and all the paraphernalia that goes with them.
After the London airports, Prestwick is the second international airport in that it is the reserve for long-distance flights if Heathrow and Gatwick are fogbound. What kind of sense does it make to put Prestwick, to which long-haul transatlantic flights will from time to time be diverted, under a separate set of political rules or rule makers?
I give way to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Trade to address himself to this matter if he wishes. If it is retorted that the Assembly will do something different from the Westminster Parliament about Prestwick, why in heaven's name split up an organisation that is doing a good job? The only possible reason for such action is to give the Assembly at least the window dressing of having something to do.
I address another question to my hon. Friend the Minister who is responsible for aviation matters. Are there to be special rules for transatlantic flights starting from Scotland—rules different from those for other such flights leaving United Kingdom airports? What is the position? I give way to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland.
Of course we know. I do not intend to deal with this point at the moment. I shall deal with it in my winding-up speech. My hon. Friend must not assume that because Ministers do not jump up at his behest every time he asks a question they do not know the answers. It may well be that they are giving my hon. Friend enough rope to hang himself.
It shows how little scrutiny this Parliament can have over this kind of legislation. It also shows the power of the Executive not to answer questions that are very properly asked.
I think that it is Hobson's choice or Morton's fork. If the rules for Prestwick are to be different, laid down or dreamt up by an Assembly in its wisdom, we must ask what response such a proposition has drawn from the professional aviators. The answer, we all know, is icy. The professional aviation industry is against the whole proposal to split up responsibilities.
Are the rules to be the same as at present? Are the present arrangements to be dismantled at considerable expense in terms of money, scarce personnel and other resources? Has anyone ever deployed the argument that hiving off Prestwick to an Assembly would in any way benefit passengers using the airport or those connected with aviation? I have the unworthy suspicion that such con- siderations played little, if any, part in the decision to hive off Prestwick. I base my assertion on the recent White Paper on airports policy.
Until now we have had a perfectly good system. The Scottish commmittee of the British Airports Authority, chaired by the deputy chairman of the Authority, has done a perfectly decent job. Who can say that it has not worked well? It is no answer for the Government to say that the Assembly must be given the ability to plan transport. In no way, to quote the phrase of my hon. Friend the Minister, is the planning of transport hampered if the unity of the Civil Aviation Authority and the British Airports Authority is maintained.
Take Glasgow and Edinburgh Airports. Are there to be different rules at either end of the shuttle? Is this gratuitous compexity the end-product of having an Assembly in the High School? If I were the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) I should ask some questions about the development of Sumburgh. Is that to be undertaken by the Assembly or by the United Kingdom airports authority? If it is to be by the Assembly, how it is to be financed? The right hon. Gentleman asked a very proper question: who is to develop new airports in the event that a second airport is required in Shetland? Perhaps in the winding-up speech we could have an answer to that kind of question.
The Civil Aviation Act, which passed through the House this Session, alters part of the Civil Aviation Act 1971, which schedule 10 could devolve. For example, schedule 10 makes the Assembly and its Executive in the High School responsible for the international obligations of the United Kingdom arising from the Civil Aviation Act. This is certainly the interpretation put on it by those most concerned with airports in Scotland.
I refer to paragraph 9, line 8, on page 51 of the Bill and the question of the regulatory powers. What exactly does the term "regulatory powers" mean in this context? Does it mean that all the functions of the Civil Aviation Authority relating to airports are reserved? If all the powers are to be reserved, it will be a relief to the airport workers, some of whom, my constituents in Edinburgh, tell me that there will be discouragement to operators from the use of Scottish airports from all the complications and bureaucracy that could arise.
Yet we come back to this question of Hobson's choice. If the powers are to be reserved, why go to the hullabaloo of giving the responsibility for aerodromes to the Assembly unless it is to give the Assembly something to do?
There is the question: what precisely is covered by that qualification concerning regulatory powers in part II of the schedule? I refer to Lord McCluskey's remarks in the House of Lords. He said:
I would point out that the words 'regulatory powers' are not intended to have a technical meaning and are not used as a term of art. They are intended to cover the powers of the CAA in respect of licensing of flights and services."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 9th May 1978; Vol. 391, c. 832.]
I have always thought that in this House of Commons "intentions" were not good enough, and that what mattered was how people not reading Hansard would interpret Bills and Acts, if necessary in the courts. Therefore, I ask what exactly this means and how lawyers are to interpret it.
We then come to the question of licensing decision. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade has told the Association of British Chambers of Commerce that appeals against licensing decisions for Scottish internal services could be applicable and be heard by the Scottish Executive in relation to clause 64. Can hon. Members imagine the potential confusion and chaos? It is not easy to administer flights at the best of times, but given this particular scenario, what would be the position of international flights with stopping places in Scotland, and what would be the situation of international flights with two stopping places in Scotland? Does a two-stop journey in Scotland, between, say, Turnhouse and Prestwick, constitute an internal flight?
It is back to the question of bureaucracy. Anything that makes landing at Scottish airports less convenient and less attractive is hardly good for the people who live in Scotland. In fact, it is downright bad for us. It hits Scotland's industry, commerce and tourism. To take action that would discourage the use of airports north of the border is just mad, both from the Scottish point of view and from the United Kingdom point of view. The network of airports should remain unmolested in an area the size of Britain. It is just loony to suggest that we have two different bodies in charge of airports.
We come to the question of the protection of aerodromes and aircraft against acts of violence. Is there a contradiction between paragraph 9 of part II and group 10 of part I of schedule 10? The Government spokesman's explanation in the House of Lords, as reported at column 831 on 9th May, does not convince objective lawyers looking at what is said about it. Again, in the House of Lords the Government spokesman, Lord McCluskey, said that we must not suppose that we are splitting up some great monolithic structure. But final control is being split up for the first time.
The Assembly has powers in terms of the maintenance of aerodromes. The Assembly will have power to acquire land for the use of aerodromes and power to make byelaws. It will have power to place warning lights on high buildings in the vicinity of aerodromes. The Assembly will have regulation-making powers for the purpose of dealing with the effect of noise and vibration connected with the landing and taking off of aircraft at aerodromes. But, as was said at the beginning, there are certain other matters in relation to pollution where the Assembly does not have powers.
I do not apologise for going into this matter in some detail, because we really must understand the full nature of this muddle. There is the question of providing grants towards the cost of insulating buildings nearby. Why should this be done by an authority other than that which is responsible for pollution, including noise pollution? With this wardrobe of powers, let it not be suggested that the BAA and the CAA will not have two masters in future.
The Assembly will have responsibility for public health matters arising from the landing and departure of aircraft, but international regulations appear to remain the responsibility of the Westminster Parliament. Yet we find at the end, as if to tease us, that control of pollution by aircraft is specifically excluded by paragraph 7 of part II of schedule 10.
This represents, in some detail, the nature of the muddle that we are involved in. The Association of Chambers of Commerce, talking about noise control under section 29 of the Civil Aviation Act of 1971, says:
We are unable to see what can be achieved by including noise control within the scope of the Scotland Bill. This is surely a matter which should be retained by the United Kingdom Government, as it could be used to prevent certain aircraft landing at airports; in any dispute between the Scottish Executive and the Department of Trade, this devolution would be a highly effective method of reducing civil aviation to a shambles.
The hon. Member for Ayr referred to the objections of the consultative committees. The Edinburgh committee regards it as intolerable. The more we look at any particular aspect that is devolved, the more we come up against manholes which show how unsatisfactory it is. I am bound to notice one thing—that certain of my hon. Friends, as soon as we come to matters which concern them and which they really care about, albeit that they are pro-devolution on other matters, say "Oh no, we cannot have this."
My hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Fowler) has a longstanding interest in abortion, and he acts as a Teller though he has been making pro-devolution speeches on matters that concern him rather less. It is the same with some of my hon. Friends who are interested in forestry and others who are interested in waterways. Whenever we come to a subject where there is an intimate knowledge and concern, they must be pretty unhappy.
Therefore, I end by hoping that my hon. Friend the Member for Feltham and Heston (Mr. Kerr), who has a longstanding interest in and knowledge of aviation affairs, will, on this occasion, join us in the Lobby.
My hon. Friend nods his head. I am glad that once again I have the agreement of one of my hon. Friends who really knows and cares about the subject of aviation and is against this Bill.
Following on from what the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) has just said, I imagine that every Member, whether present in the Chamber or not, knows that, if there were to be a free vote tonight, the take-over by the Assembly of airports would be thrown out. There is no question about the logic of the case. Indeed, it is quite astonishing that the Government should pursue their opposition to the Lords amendment.
It is amazing that the Government should wish to split aviation. If there was a real case for it, obviously aviation in total should go to the Assembly. But there is no case for it at all, and the Government have brought about the worst of all worlds by providing that the responsibility for aviation shall rest partially with the Assembly and partially remain, where it works extremely well at present with the Department of Trade, the CAA and the BAA.
We went through many of the arguments when we discussed the relationship of the BAA and the CAA with Scottish airports. It was generally accepted that the two authorities worked efficiently and that there was no wish for change in the remoter airports, which should stay with the CAA. We are now seeking to intervene yet again and to put the BAA and CAA airports under the control of the Assembly. Yet so much of the control of aviation will remain with the CAA. This devolution proposal, so far as we know, is against the universal advice of the consultative committees. Perhaps the Minister will say whether any of them supports him.
Aviation is already sufficiently complicated and bureaucratic. The thought of more bureaucracy must fill particularly the pilots of airlines and the airline operators with grave apprehension. The Government are adding enormously to the future complexity of running aviation in the United Kingdom and specifically in Scotland. They are sowing the seeds of disquiet in the minds of those who deal with aviation and who fear that they will be involved with the Assembly as well as with the BAA, the CAA, the Department of Trade and the Scottish Office.
I have held a pilot's licence for many years, and I know a little about this subject and about the airports of Scotland. I understood the Minister to say that licensing in the broad sense would not be included in an Assembly's powers. I take it that he means not only the licensing of flights and the registration of aircraft but also the licensing of pilots. However, he will have to give much more information about the future of landing fees, which are crucial. If there are to be different charges in Scotland and England, and in Wales for that matter, it will make the charging operations for overseas and internal flights very difficult for the airlines. That is a strong reason for not devolving airports.
There will obviously be some muddle over flight safety and air navigation generally, because the air navigation beacons and their flight services are dotted about Scotland and are sometimes at airports themselves. It seems a pity to split the control of those established facilities.
The hon. Member for West Lothian rightly mentioned Prestwick, which as he said is unique in having by far the finest fog-free record of any airport in Britain. All pilots know that, however bad the weather, if they get in anywhere in Britain, it will be at Prestwick. The Minister may say that the Bill does not affect flight safety or air traffic control, but he is taking away the present feeling of entity and adding one more bureaucratic layer to the control of Prestwick airport.
I hope that the Minister will be able to confirm that there are some issues which will not be devolved, but this will all add to the doubts in people's minds.
I am glad that the Under-Secretary of State for Trade who is responsible for aviation is present. I wanted to refer especially to the superb job being done by the accident investigation branch which operates at Farnborough and deals with crashed aircraft and accidents in British air space. I hope that he can confirm that it will continue to investigate all accidents wherever they take place, even if they happen at the devolved airports. The branch carries out a service for the world. For example, the investigations into the Boeing 707 which crashed in Africa were a model for the whole world. The accident investigation branch in this country is without parallel and we must not lessen its authority in the United Kingdom.
We have been very fortunate in the development of island airstrips and aerodromes in Scotland. We must not underestimate our debt to the Services. The Army built many airstrips in Scotland and set up the chain which is now so important in air transport. That is not happening now because the Ministry of Defence does not have enough resources to level land and establish airstrips in the islands.
Will the Assembly have sufficient funds to continue that fine service? It is important that aviation in Scotland does not stand still and that as many areas as possible have an air service. It is not vital that such a service should be viable —few are in the islands—but it is very important to the community. The development of such services should not be hindered by this remarkable decision to split control of airports.
The investigation of noise control is very expensive whether it is monitored on the ground or in the air. Will the new Scottish Airports Authority, or whatever it may call itself, have its own flight-testing facility? Will it have enough money for its own aircraft for this work?
Many questions have been posed in the Bill—not so much by the Minister, who has dodged most of the issues tonight. I hope that he will answer many of these questions when he replies. He has given no answer which carries weight about why we must make this change and break up an air control and flight control system which largely works well and replace it with a hotch-potch of doubt and confusion which can give us no advantage at all in Scotland.
It is very noticeable that on many matters of detail in the Bill, as on this matter, even those who are in principle very much in favour of devolution oppose the inclusion of particular subjects or topics when they examine the contradictions, difficulties and potential conflicts of interest that their own specialist knowledge reveals in the detail of the Bill. That is not accidental. It is because it is a bad Bill, a badly drafted Bill. Those who know about any particular subject always find the loopholes and the badness, and recognise the difficulties that will be caused, because of their own expert knowledge. Then, in particular matters, they turn against the general principle which they may well support.
I understand that noise control should be a subject of the Scottish Administration, that they should be the people who use the powers of section 29 of the Civil Aviation Act 1971. There is a possible argument in favour of saying that the Executive should have those powers. But there is no possible argument for giving the legislative devolution which would enable the Assembly to add to the powers rather than simply to supervise their operation.
Now that we have amended section 29 by the Civil Aviation Act 1978, what will happen? The amendment was made in order to enable the Secretary of State for Trade to ensure compliance with international agreements on aircraft noise. If the executive powers in section 29 are to go from the Secretary of State to the Scottish Executive, the Executive will not be involved in any negotiations on international agreements on aircraft noise. What happens if it says "We do not much like your agreement and we shall have a different standard"? As far as I can see, that would be quite possible.
That could have a disastrous effect not only on Scotland but on the rest of the United Kingdom, because under the normal arrangements there is a certain reciprocity about the use of airports. For example, if Scotland decided that certain aircraft were not to be allowed to land on Scottish airports, the workings of the international arrangements as I understand them—I am open to correction by the Minister—would be such that as a result of a foreign airline's losing its licence to fly to Scotland a United Kingdom airline could by the counterpart arrangement lose its capacity to fly from English airports as well as from Scottish airports.
Perhaps it would be for the convenience of the House if I cleared up this point immediately. Noise control and noise pollution are not being devolved. They are reserved.
That is the finest news have had for a long time. At least we have eliminated one contradiction.
I turn to licensing, which I know is not being devolved. As I understand the Government's policy, their intention is to use the licensing arrangements to achieve the development of selected airports. Although I understand that licensing is not to go to the Assembly, but is reserved, there seems to be a slight contradiction in that the Assembly will apparently have—I think that I am correctly paraphrasing the Under-Secretary —the ultimate responsibility for long-term policies for airports in Scotland yet wilt not have responsibility for the licensing arrangements, the Government's chosen weapon for controlling long-term policies for the development of airports in the United Kingdom.
It seems to me that there will be a great deal of confusion over the intention to devolve a matter the achievement of which requires a licensing provision from the United Kingdom Government—or perhaps we shall no longer have licensing as the main way of controlling the development of selected airports.
It is extremely dangerous to devolve the control of airports in any way which could have not only art effect on the movements of British aircraft in and out of the United Kingdom but, through counterpart agreements and the clearances granted to foreign operators, a detrimental effect on aircraft services to Scotland and the United Kingdom as a whole.
One of the things about air travel is that it is international. One of the things about airports is that in a sense they are all international. People fly within a country, but in islands as small as the British Isles a great deal of the local traffic is for the benefit of people going on further, not only from Scotland to England or within England but to foreign countries. What worries me is that the whole of that international aspect, which surely must remain wholly within the control of the United Kingdom Government and Parliament, seems to be put at risk by devolving the control of some of those international airports to the Assembly. It is that aspect, rather than the internal United Kingdom aspect, that worries me about the Government's attitude to the Lords amendment.
The hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) made a very strong speech, and every ounce of his strength was justified. It is extraordinary that wherever we look in the Bill, whether on the great issues of constitutional principle, such as the West Lothian question embodies, or a small but very important specific issue, we come up against chaos and confusion. Clearly, the Government themselves are not sure exactly what they intend; otherwise, they would have given specific powers.
Is it not a fact that every body outside the House connected with air travel is opposed to this measure? If not, will the Minister name those bodies which are in agreement with the Government?
We all know that there are those of us who oppose the Bill with greater or lesser degrees of strength. I oppose it totally, but I am aware that there are among my hon. Friends those who would like to see some sort of devolution. They say that at least on matters relating solely to Scotland they can go along with the principle of devolution. But surely there is no provision in the entire Bill which more obviously and by definition violates the principle of being solely to do with Scotland. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Farnham (Mr. Macmillan) has just said, airports are by definition international institutions.
To try to justify this breach of that general principle on the ground that somehow we shall do something for the Scottish infrastructure is ridiculous. If the Minister does not intend to devolve Aberdeen railway station, why does he intend to devolve Aberdeen airport? They are both tied up in the infrastructure. I mention Aberdeen because the airport is in my constituency, but the matter has wider application.
The fact is that this provision is being introduced because the Government want to appear to be giving to the Assembly something significant to do. There will be 150 Assemblymen, and the Government have to persuade the people of Scotland that they are giving them something worthwhile to do. What will be the result? It will be a simple result and it will arise particularly out of this proposal. There will be more bureaucracy, more confusion and more cost. That is the recipe contained in the whole of the Bill, nowhere better exemplified than in this absurd amendment.
By leave of the House. I shall seek to reply to all of the points raised in the 10 minutes that remain. It is worthy of note that all hon. Members who wished to take part in the debate have been able to do so. No one has been cut out. The hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger), as usual, was at his persuasive best when seeking to convince us to accept the Lords amendment, which I invite the House to reject.
The hon. Member for Ayr made great play, as did other hon. Members and not least my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell)—from his usual anti-devolution stance, passionately held these days following his change of mind—of the fact that airports are international. I quote from the Government White Paper of February 1978, Cmnd. 7084, dealing with airports policy, which refers to Scotland in paragraph 136 on page 38 and says:
As the consultation document recognised, Scotland forms a relatively distinct unit in airport planning terms. The scope for diverting London traffic to Scotland, apart from traffic with Scottish origins or destinations at present interlining through London, is negligible, and with the limited exception of the extent to which people in the Borders might look towards the North of England, there is no overlap with the catchment areas of airports in England and Wales. Historically, air travel has been more developed on domestic routes in Scotland than in the English regions".
I should have thought that that dealt once and for all with the arguments of those who say that Scottish airports are intertwined with the rest of the airports in the United Kingdom. The White Paper disagrees with that point of view.
The White Paper was put together as a result of consultations with various bodies just as interested in this matter as many of us here. The hon. Member for Ayr said that as a Government we were not sure, because we were not introducing devolution immediately. That is not the case. Devolution of all the functions I mentioned in my opening speech will take place immediately the order is made. The delay relates only to the British Airports Authority and the Civil Aviation Authority, and this is due to the need for there to be discussions between those bodies and the Assembly. I am sure that the hon. Member will accept that.
Much has been said about the difficulties of two different organisations operating in air transport. There appears to be the impression that this does not prevail at the moment in the United Kingdom. Such a view does not stand examination. The British Airports Authority airports are, in the London area, Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted. Luton is a local authority airport, yet there is no difficulty in integrating flight arrangements between Luton, Stansted, Gatwick and Heathrow. Hon. Members do themselves no credit when they seek to argue that, because the Government say that the Assembly ought to have responsibilty for the management of airports in Scotland, difficulties will be created for flight management. We have these differences in England and Wales arising from the ownership and operation of airports, and no difficulties arise.
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would not want to mislead anyone. We are talking about Scotland, and he must know that there have been immense difficulties in the allocation of traffic between Prestwick and Glasgow airports. That problem has been resolved only by putting them both under the British Airports Authority.
It is not accurate to say that the situation has been resolved in that way. It is the Civil Aviation Authority which has resolved the problem in relation to Prestwick.
In view of the time, it would be better if I came immediately to the Prestwick position. The situation is quite clear. As the right hon. Member for Farnham (Mr. Macmillan) pointed out, licensing responsibility is not to be devolved. It will continue to be the case after the Assembly has taken responsibility for the management of Scottish airports that applications for licences to fly into and out of Prestwick will be handled by the Department of Trade. In that sense, the allocation of air traffic between the various airports in the whole of the United Kingdom is a reserved matter. I hope that nothing has been said in the debate which will create uncertainty where none should exist, particularly with respect to Prestwick.
I turn now to the accident investigation branch. This, too, is a reserved matter. There is no question of the branch being devolved. The right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) asked about the air ambulance service. Because of its health functions, it will be a devolved matter for which the Assembly will be responsible.
My right hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian has, as usual—I say this with respect—set up all the Aunt Sallies that he is normally able to set up on this or any other aspect of devolution only to have had them all shot down. Whether he likes it or not, there are differences at both ends of the shuttle. I thought that it was a bad example to cite to suggest that after devolution there would be differences at both ends of the shuttle. Those differences exist now, and I do not hear any complaints about that.
I was asked whether the consultative committees had made representations to the Government concerning their views on the devolution of airports. I say, to the hon. Member for Dumfries (Mr. Monro) in particular, that I am not aware of the committees having made representations to the Government about the devolution of airports in Scotland. I shall have this checked. I have made inquiries during the debate and we have not been able to find a trace of such representations. I see the hon. Member for Ayr holding a letter in his hand. Representations may have been made to him on the point, but that is different from their being made to the Government. All I am saying is that, if representations have been made to us, we are not able to trace them at the moment.
I think I have said sufficient to convince the House that the management of airports in Scotland ought to be devolved to the Assembly in the way that I have suggested. For all these reasons, I again ask the House to disagree with the Lords in the said amendment.
I beg to move, That this House doth disagree with the Lords in the said amendment.
This amendment was moved by the Government on Third Reading in the Lords in order to correct a defective amendment which had been carried earlier to reserve purchase grants for libraries, museums and art galleries. This was done, and this was made perfectly clear at the time, totally without commitment on the Government's part to the principle underlying the amendment, and simply to ensure that the Bill as it returned to the Commons was technically correct and would not give rise to doubts in interpretation.
The effect of the amendment is to reserve to the Government responsibility for all purchase funds—that is, annual purchase grants and special grants—for Scottish museums and galleries, but to reserve responsibility for special purchase grants alone in respect of Scottish libraries. The supporters of the amendment were also concerned about the use of the National Land Fund in relation to items for collections, but were reassured on this point. Access to the fund is reserved, but this will not prevent allocations being made to the Scottish institutions of items acquired with assistance from the National Land Fund.
The Government throughout have maintained a consistent position on the devolution of purchase grants, and it may be helpful if I once again set out that position. At present, libraries, museums and galleries receive annual grants in aid for purchases of objects to add to their collections. But occasionally an object comes on to the market whose cost is outwith the scope of the institution's regular purchase grant. In such cases, a Scottish institution can apply to the Scottish Office for a special purchase grant. Such a grant must have the approval of the Treasury which will be given only if the Treasury is satisfied that a number of stringent conditions have been met. It has always been the practice that a special grant should not be more than one-half of the cost of the object.
The proposal that responsibility for the national museums and galleries in Scotland, and for the National Library of Scotland, should lie with the devolved administration has never seriously been questioned. This includes responsibility for the overall development of these institutions in Scotland, their organisation, salaries and staffing, provision of accommodation, maintenance of buildings and care of their contents. With this wide-ranging policy, in the Government's view, should lie control of both the normal purchase grants and any special purchase grants which the institutions may seek.
As for routine purchases, to remove from the Scottish Administration responsibility for providing from the block fund the normal purchase grants-in-aid for museums and galleries but to devolve the same grants in respect of libraries does not make sense. This could be quite easily budgeted for in advance and should be dealt with as part of the routine funding of the institutions.
To suggest that the Scottish Administration will be less conscious of the importance of purchase grants and of cultural and artistic matters in general than the Government in London is paternalism of the worst kind. Obviously the Scottish Administration will wish to establish its own priorities in these, as in other matters. If some special item comes on the market, or if special circumstances arise which involve extraordinary expenditure which could not be budgeted for, once again the Government's view is that it should be for the devolved administration to consider whether it can find the money from the block fund. After all, the block fund will be very large. It will be of the order of £2,000 million at 1975–76 prices. If additional and unforeseen expenditure occurs in any of the areas covered by the block fund, surely the first priority must be to see whether the block fund can accommodate it.
However, it seems reasonable to concede that if the works of art were important enough and the sums of money involved such that clearly they could not be accommodated within the block fund, the issue might take on a Great Britain dimension. It would then be open to the Scottish Administration to ask the Government to help. The answer, of course, would depend on the circumstances of the case.
How would the Minister suggest defining within a block fund what amount of money was available for a purchase and what was not? I can see that if there were specific grants of some kind, that would be possible. But when the whole essence of the proposal is that the money is handed over to the Scottish Assembly to be spent as it wishes, it is quite impossible to say that this is the amount of money that it can provide but that this plus X is the amount in respect of which it must have recourse to the Treasury.
The answer to that is quite simple. The Scottish Assembly would decide what money should be available from the block fund which had been negotiated by it with the Treasury here on behalf of the Scottish Assembly. The difference between normal purchases of articles which come on to the market and which are of interest to libraries or museums and special items is quite distinct. There have been occasions in the past and there will be occasions in the future when neither the museums nor the libraries have been or will be in a position to fund the purchase of such items from their own budgets. It is in these circumstances that application could be made to the Scottish Office at the moment, and in the future to the Treasury, for consideration of this special allocation. In these circumstances, as has been the case in the past, it is not likely that the allocation would exceed 50 per cent. of the purchase price.
May I press my hon. Friend on that precise matter? In the course of the debate in the House of Lords on this issue the noble Lady, Baroness Stedman indicated that it would be open to the Scottish Assembly to come to the Treasury for a special grant. Subsequently, I and, I understand, the noble Lords who took part in that debate, received a letter from my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, the Member for Glasgow, Queen's Park (Mr. McElhone), saying that the noble Lady had been incorrect in saying that if any special circumstances should arise in which additional money needed quickly to be made available to save a valuable work of art, the Scottish Administration could come to the Treasury to make its case. If I read that letter aright, my hon. Friend is saying that in special, extraordinary circumstances in which additional money is needed quickly, it will not be open to the Scottish Administration to come to the Treasury.
Perhaps it would be convenient for the Minister to answer both questions together. As I understand it, it would be for the Assembly to decide whether money should be spent, and how much, out of the block grant to make a specific purchase. However, is it not likely that if there were a fall-back position and the Assembly were told that even if it did not grant the money the Government would come to its aid, that fallback position would encourage the Assembly not to make the grant in the first place?
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way again. What I wish to raise touches on the same point but is slightly different. In reply to me a moment or two ago, the Minister seemed to introduce the principle of hypothecated revenue. I understood that the whole point of the block fund was that the money was handed over, that it was then spent by the Scottish Assembly as it wished, and that any notion that within that money the Government would say "This is what you spend on arts, this is what you spend on roads, this is what you spend on houses", and so, was never intended. Yet the Minister seems to have swung over to a kind of hypothecation merely for the purposes of this debate.
I think that it would be better if I were allowed to develop my argument. However, I can assure the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison) that I am not arguing the hypothecation of revenue. At no time during the debate has it been suggested that after devolution the Government will say to the Scottish Assembly that it should spend so much of the block budget on X and so much on Y. I am not saying that now. I am saying that for years past Scottish museums, libraries and art galleries have been involved in purchases. When it comes to negotiating the block fund, account will be taken of that. There is an annual cost involved, and account will be taken of that. However, there arise special circumstances when unique and rare items come on to the market for purchase.
I hope that perhaps my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Cook) will forgive me if I do not answer his question immediately. I want to be absolutely sure in answering his question. I shall answer it before the House makes up its mind about this amendment. I shall take account as well of what the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Mrs. Knight) said. But, if the House will agree, I think that it will be better if I develop my argument.
I was talking about special purchases, and I should explain that at present all special purchase grants are ad hoc and without prejudice. To say that these are matters which can be decided only by the Government and to exclude the devolved Administration would be contrary to the basic principles of devolution. Therefore, the Government cannot accept this amendment.
It is relevant to point out that when amendments to the Wales Bill with precisely the same effect were moved by the official Opposition in another place, the same arguments and the same explanations that I have just advanced persuaded the majority of that place to reject the amendments.
I do not think that it is going too far to suggest that the House of Lords, after fuller debates and with a greater understanding of the matter under discussion, came to the conclusion that the Government's proposals were acceptable. For all these reasons, I suggest that we disagree with the Lords amendment.
We have spent a great deal of time on devolution, and this is the second Bill before the House. It has been grinding through its processes for some time. Therefore, I find it rather surprising, particularly on this item of galleries, museums and libraries, that there should still be confusion in the minds of the Minister and his colleagues.
The hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Cook) pointed out that there had been some confusion in another place on 9th May following a reply by Baroness Stedman. She said, in a reference to the point about special purchase grants:
'Extraordinary action by the Treasury will continue to be available as now and allocations can still be made to the galleries, and so on, of Scotland. I hope that this assurance clears up the point."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 9th May 1978; Vol. 391, c. 805.]
That was on 9th May, yet the point is still not clear.
A letter was then sent out to those Lords who had taken part in the debate. That letter was a retraction of the statement made by Baroness Stedman on 9th May. The letter, as recorded in the Lords debate of 12th June, stated:
I was incorrect in stating that if any special extraordinary circumstances should arise in which extra money needs quickly to be made available to save a very valuable work of art, then the Scottish Administration can come to the Treasury to make their case."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 12th June 1978; Vol. 393, c. 76.]
That is obviously a clear rebuttal of the earlier statement made in the debate in another place by Baroness Stedman.
I must point out that by 12th June it was quite clear to those who had taken part in the debate on 9th May that an apology had been made. For example, in his opening remarks Lord Robbins acquitted Baroness Stedman of trying to mislead the House, and he made it absolutely plain that he and others who are interested in galleries had accepted that she had made a mistake. The matter was left at that.
I should not have intervened at this stage had my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) not stepped in at that moment to try, as usual, to distort the argument. The last paragraph of the letter is quite clear, when it says:
The above-mentioned arrangements are, of course, without prejudice to the freedom of action by the Government to make funds available in any case they think fit for any purchase, whatever the circumstances.
My understanding of the debate in the other place was that the concern was about access to the National Land Fund, and all I am saying is that that access will still be available on the same conditions as hitherto has been the case.
Obviously I was not present at the debate in another place and therefore did not hear the arguments. But confusion still exists between what Baroness Stedman said in another place and what the Minister is saying tonight. I should be much happier to accept the conclusion that the Lords arrived at on 12th June when they realised then that they were starting again from scratch on this arrangement.
I thought that we were coming to the debate this evening from the position as it is recorded on 12th June. Now we seem to be moving into an even more confused situation on 18th July. It is very difficult for the House to know where it stands on these arrangements. The Minister certainly has not clarified the point. Perhaps in the course of the debate he might receive some advice on the matter.
I cannot believe that the letter retracting Baroness Stedman's statement, and saying that special grants would not be available, is any more likely to be right or wrong in comparison with the Minister's statement a few minutes ago that special grants would still be available from the Treasury. Unless the Minister can clarify the situation at the outset, we are in a completely new situation.
If the hon. Member would look at Baroness Stedman's letter, he
would see that the paragraph to which I referred is included in it. It says:
The above-mentioned arrangements are of course without prejudice…
She goes on to say what I have just said. I cannot for the life of me understand why the hon. Member cannot understand that.
There is clearly some confusion between the two Ministers, one in another place and the other in this House. On that basis I rest on the decision and judgment of their Lordships. That is a better basis on which to continue this debate than to quote from a letter of which the Minister may have a copy but which we do not possess.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have been told that I have been distorting something. The only thing I could have distorted was Lord Robbins' speech. I am at some disadvantage, because we cannot read out exactly what was said. For the sake of the record I should be willing to read the opening paragraph of Lord Robbins' speech, but that would be out of order. I merely wish to point out that I was not trying to distort anything.
The hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) tries to raise a point of order and then goes on to say that he wishes to do something that is out of order. Matters are becoming a little confused. That seems to be the general atmosphere in the House. The point is that it is not a matter for the Chair.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I share the confusion suffered by other hon. Members. Is it not in order in this House to quote in full ministerial pronouncements made in the other House? If that ministerial pronouncement is inaccurate and another noble Lord corrects it, there may be some rule of order to allow us to take that into account.
Until that new rule of order arrives, we must stick to the present rule. The rule is that where a Minister in another place has made a statement, it can be read in detail in this House, but where some other noble Lord or Baroness, not a member of the Government, makes a statement, it has to be paraphrased.
I cannot throw any further light on the situation. Clearly there is confusion between the two Ministers concerned. I wish to try to consider the amendment as it stands, because it is clear that the Bill cannot be satisfactory if we do not agree to the Lords amendment.
There are two reasons why we support the retention of the amendment. The first is that the present system works well, if only because of the fact that we know what it is. That cannot be said of the position as the Minister has presented it to us this evening.
The second and most important factor is that the present system is part of the complex taxation arrangements laid down by the Treasury. One advantage of the present system is that it is removed so far as possible from the political arena, particularly from local politics, while the block grant system through which the Assembly will be financed would not assist purchases to be made for museums and galleries, if only because the political argument about spending priorities would be too near home.
We all know from our own experience of these matters how difficult it can be for local authorities to become involved in these ventures. Local expenditure is more often in the public firing line than that of Government Departments. Attempts to finance art purchases by allocating part of the block grant could cause great difficulties with the Assembly.
The Assembly will have enough problems of this kind—problems involving the allocation of resources and of trying to sort out priorities—especially at the beginning as it attempts to agree the block grant with Westminster on the one hand and, on the other, the allocation of expenditure among the various functions of the local authorities themselves.
There is the genuine fear of unnecessary political bickering and interference as well as a number of complex practical difficulties. At the end of the day we are likely to find that the new arrangements fail to match the present satisfactory arrangements.
The amendment is intended to limit the area of devolved matters affecting museums and galleries. I accept as a matter for the Assembly the devolution of the day-to-day management of these places, but it makes a distinction between purchase grants-in-aid and day-to-day management. It is the inevitable connection between taxation policy and the purchase of works of art which makes this distinction necessary. I am at a loss to understand why Ministers refuse to recognise this fact.
It was noticeable that the Minister made no reference to the complexity of taxation matters and the extent to which considerations of that kind must be taken into account when any items are available for purchase or sale. That is particularly surprising from Ministers who specialise in the creation of high levels of taxation and are for ever thinking of new ways not just of collecting taxes but of making life more difficult for private collectors of art works.
There is a letter to the Secretary of State from Dr. Jack Kane, chairman of the National Galleries of Scotland. It is dated 31st May. It is three pages in length and frank in its criticisms of the Government's proposals. It contains a complaint that in another place no argument of substance was adduced against the Lords amendment—that is the first serious criticism that the letter contains. It goes on to explain that the Bill introduces a separation between annual purchase grants and special purchase grants which would be extremely difficult to operate. It covers a number of important points, not least the view, as it says,
that purchase grants are essentially a part of the central taxation system and should remain under central control".
I think that particularly relevant is the prècis of a paper prepared by the director of the National Galleries of Scotland, which is attached to the letter. This prècis says, first of all,
The need to stop important works of art from being sold abroad from the private collections in this country has led during the course of this century to: (1) the formation of the National Art-Collections Fund; (2) export controls; (3) certain applications of the National Land Fund; (4) exemptions from estate duty; (5) special Government purchase grants; (6) the remission of estate duty on objects acquired by museums; and (7) acceptance of objects in payment of tax. These are national instruments and, except for the privately funded National Art-Collections Fund, they are all
directly related to the tax laws in force at a particular time.…
The significance of that criticism should be obvious.
I was surprised that the Under-Secretary of State did not refer to the National Galleries of Scotland's case on the Bill and the amendment, because I do not believe that the House can afford to ignore such an authority regarding the protection of Scotland's heritage.
There is a further quotation from the precis that I think the House would want to consider. It says:
The annual purchase grants of the national museums and galleries of Scotland are not reserved exclusively to acquisitions involving the national heritage, but this is now their predominant use. These would therefore seem to be sound reasons for recognising them as an element of the central taxation system, which could not be subject to separate control without upsetting the balance of the whole machine.
That says a lot for the amendment and for the protection that the Lords are trying to give to the National Galleries and those other institutions in Scotland which are particularly dependent, among other things, on the taxation system and how it affects their treasures.
There is no easy way in which an Assembly operating a block grant system could respond with the speed and objectivity required when purchase grants are requested. I am not suggesting that the present system is perfect, but it is more flexible and better suited to the requirements of our museums and art galleries, as the chairman and the director of the National Galleries pointed out in their letter.
The Treasury levies the taxes which affect the vital decisions of sale and purchase and the Treasury is therefore also responsible for ensuring that works of art that have to be sold do not unnecessarily go abroad. It follows, therefore, that, faced with this responsibility, the Treasury must supply funds when they are needed for this purpose. These are not decisions which can be taken compartmentally in Scotland, England Wales, because they affect the national heritage of all the people of the United Kingdom.
The case for the amendment is based on the sheer practicality of the need to take account on a day-to-day basis of the ever-changing tax scene and the requirements of the country as a whole. Like the Scottish universities, our museums, libraries and galleries in Scotland have a British, as well as a Scottish, role. I hope that the House will recognise the need to look objectively at the facts and will allow this non-partisan amendment to remain in the Bill.
It is rare for me to intervene in these debates, because I take the view that they are largely Scottish matters, but we in the rest of the United Kingdom are concerned. Perhaps we have too often taken the view that these are matters for Scottish Members only. Some of the most impressive statements on either side have been those that have considered the implications of the Bill for England. As a keen devolutionist, my view is that one of the flaws in the whole devolution programme is that its impact on England has not been sufficiently considered. That is the case with these amendments.
When devolution takes place, we must recognise that there may be a natural fear that the consequence of handing over powers that have hitherto been exercised centrally and exercised, in the opinion of those exercising them, in a wise and beneficent fashion, will be that those powers will be misused, or not used in such a wise fashion. The possibility is there and the question that the House has to consider is whether the possibility of a misuse of the powers is so great that they should not be devolved.
In my judgment, there is very little possibility of the powers being misused in Scotland. The Scots are a proud people, who are much more conscious of their heritage and culture than are those in the rest of the United Kingdom. There can be little fear that, left to itself, a Scottish Assembly will conclude that the whole heritage of Scotland is a matter which could be treated lightly. If that fear exists, it is ill-placed.
With his wide experience of the arts and his interesting period of office as Minister responsible for the arts, no doubt the hon. Gentleman will have thought deeply about these matters. Can he define "Scottish heritage"? Are the Duke of Sutherland's Titians, which are now on loan to a Scottish gallery, part of the Scottish heritage or the United Kingdom heritage? If they are forced on to the market because of the tax policy of the Government, should they be rescued as part of the Scottish heritage or as part of the United Kingdom heritage, and who should do the rescuing?
The term "heritage" is one that I regret. It has come into general use. I did not initiate it myself. It is a loose and regrettable term. In the Green Paper on the wealth tax it was a great nuisance. It was used widely to mean all sorts of works of art, many of which were residing in bank vaults and never seen by anybody. If they were anybody's heritage, they were not the heritage of the nation. If I used the term myself, I was in error in doing so. I meant to refer to those possessions that the people of Scotland can regard as belonging to themselves. A decision on what should be retained is one that could be as well reached in Scotland as in England. That is all that I was trying to say. Such decisions do not have to be made here. There are people as well qualified to reach those decisions in Soot-land as anywhere else.
For these reasons I am in favour of what my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State was putting before us.
Does my hon. Friend consider that it might be easy so to regard a Titian, a Rembrandt or some other piece of art that was stolen from elsewhere 100, 200 or 500 years ago? It would be quite a different matter if, for instance, we were having to consider the original manuscripts of Hugh McDiarmid—
—who is the greatest living poet. His very name conjures up in the minds of some parochial politicians in Scotland ideas that have nothing to do with the artistic, cultural or any other sort of value of the work.hat McDiarmid has produced and, therefore, would produce a distorted decision. A decision made in London might be much more accurate.
My hon. Friend, as always, is ingenious in his argument but somewhat unconvincing. The manuscripts of McDiarmid would be widely regarded in any sphere as valuable and interesting. I find it hard to believe that an Assembly would think less of such manuscripts than others elsewhere.
In general principle, it seems that there is nothing wrong with the idea of devolution of these matters. Are there technical difficulties? I find it hard to suppose that it could be suggested that an Assembly resident and existing in Scotland could be in principle incapable of reaching correct decisions. If that were the argument—I do not think that anybody is advancing it—it would be the grossest reflection on anybody living north of the border. Surely nobody could conceivably sustain that argument. It would be an impossible argument to advance.
The argument rests, if it rests on anything, on technical difficulty. It is a question whether a special purchase grant or a general purchase grant can effectively be operated on the basis of advice tendered. If I understood my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State correctly, he was saying that in the generality of such matters the Assembly would reach its own decisions and would find its own funds to support its decisions from general resources. He was also saying that if the Assembly, or any part of the Executive in Scotland, found itself in a position of special difficulty and in need of special assistance, it would not be impossible for the Westminster Government to be approached. Is my understanding correct?
There is a problem. But there has always been a problem. It is not a problem that is affected by governmental or devolution changes. The question whether an object is valuable can be determined without national considerations. Generally it is known whether an object is of artistic value. This involves international criteria which do not normally involve national considerations, although the case of Hugh McDiarmid might be an exception.
It can be said that certain works of art are of a general excellence and that they have an international value. At a lower level certain objects will be of value to a particular nation. That is a reasonable division that can be made. I should have thought that the general purchase grant would take care of those objects which are of Scottish value, whereas a special purchase grant would be used for objects of international value.
I should like my hon. Friend to go further in his definition of criteria. When he was Minister he expressed an immortal sentiment, that it was right for the nation to use its works of art in times of crisis. That meant that the Government should be able to sell works of art to get them out of a tight economic corner. Who is to decide whether something should be sold to bail out Scotland? It is to be Scotland, if the work of art is in Scotland, or is it to be the United Kingdom? How does the former Minister address himself to that problem?
I cannot recall saying that the country should use its works of art to bail a Government out of difficulty. We have been in great difficulty on many occasions, but I do not believe that we have been so hard up that we have considered flogging a few Titians.
For the most part we are involved in an international art market. As a country we are an important participator in the international art market. That market is located in London. It might reasonably be thought that Scotland is out of the international art market. In the main, those objects which are sold on the international market are not those which are essential to retain here. Only about ½ per cent. of the stuff that comes into the international art market is material that it is necessary to retain. The trade is important to our balance of payments, but the bulk of such trade cannot be described as irreplaceable or material that must be preserved.
It is right that hon. Members on both sides of the House should be anxious about those objects that it might be considered essential to retain.
Can the hon. Gentleman suggest an answer to a dilemma? Suppose that a picture has been purchased with the help of the Westminster Government and the back-up arrangements that exist, and that subsequently it is desired, possibly because of a shortage of cash, to sell the picture. What relationship does the hon. Member envisage would exist with the central Government? Under the amendment, would it be necessary to seek permission of the central Government for the sale?
No. No such question would arise. When the money is provided it is given to an institution, which then acquires the object. The object is then the property of the institution. There could be no question of recovery by any section of the Government.
My hon. Friend is in danger of perpetrating a fallacy. It is plain that if the amendment is not made special grants will be devolved. Those are special grants from the Treasury to prevent the export of property. That is what Baroness Stedman said in the House of Lords on 12th June. She confirms the sentence that is in the letter that the Minister read. She goes on immediately after that to say, and this puts the sentence in context:
If the Government go ahead and buy some special object or picture or book which they think would be better housed in one of the Scottish institutions, then I am sure that is what they will do."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 12th June 1978; Vol. 393, c. 89.]
Clearly there the Baroness envisages a situation in which the Government have purchased a work of art and are looking around for a place in which to house it. She is not considering the situation in which an application is made by the Scottish Administration for support. That side of the matter is clearly devolved.
I understand the view that my hon. Friend takes on the matter, but on another occasion I do not think that he would seek to argue that what a noble Lady says in another place carries greater weight than what a Minister says in this House. We in this House take what the Minister says on the matter as the decisive answer. What the noble Baroness says elsewhere is of interest elsewhere.
Since my hon. Friend is anxious only to take the word of Ministers, I refer him to a letter that I have received from my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland. He states in that letter that when Baroness Stedman made her remarks in the Committee stage
she had in mind the national land fund and not the special purchase grants.
There my hon. Friend has it. It is plainly stated in a letter from a Minister that Baroness Stedman was not referring to special grants, and the implication of that is that they are devolved.
The question must lie between the Minister and my hon. Friend. I speak not from the textual basis upon which my hon. Friend relies but with some knowledge about the way in which these things operate. The change being proposed will not fundamentally alter the situation. These decisions are fundamentally ones for the Treasury. The decisions that are made at another level generally relate to the location of an object. Often there are competing claims about where an object should go. There may be legitimate competing claims about the right place to house an art work which has remained in this country for a number of years. The best place for a decision on that, if the object is historically, sentimentally or artistically connected with Scotland, is in Scotland. For that reason, I take the view expressed by my hon. Friend the Minister.
As an Englishman I have rather mixed feelings about the Government's attitude to this matter, because the consequence of the Government's scheme is to make it rather more likely that the English galleries will be well stocked with additional pictures while Scottish galleries will relatively be less well stocked. In other words, it will be that much harder for the Scottish galleries to raise the money for the really major works of art and, therefore, those works are likely to go either to the national galleries in London or other, provincial galleries. From that point of view, I should perhaps go along with the Gov- ernment. Nevertheless, I cannot feel that they have come up with the right answer.
It is still rather difficult to know exactly what answer the Government have come up with. We have had quite a lot of discussion regarding the observations of Baroness Stedman in another place. The Minister has also had a go at explaining to us what it is all about. But it must be said that there is still a degree of confusion in this House about exactly what is meant.
What I think is meant is that routine allocation of funds to the Scottish galleries would be wholly devolved to the Scottish Assembly. They would receive an annual grant for purchasing but, on top of that, they would also have the facilities for special purchases, again derived from the Scottish Assembly, but in some very unknown circumstances it is possible that the Treasury in London would chip in with a little bit more or quite a lot more. If one looks very carefully at the collected correspondence of Baroness Stedman and various pages of Hansard, that appears to be what the position is. That may be so, though I am not sure.
Even so, there are a number of rather important questions which we ought to face. One is the point which I raised earlier in an intervention—the question of hypothecated revenue. Even if one accepts the point of view of the Minister that he is not talking about hypothecation —he may be technically correct in that matter, though I do not think that he is correct in spirit—nevertheless there is still a real problem about how one decides what this normal amount of money would be and at what point one would assume that it is not enough and would then turn to the central Government in London. Again, that is an uncertain matter.
Another point which has to be made, although it has been partly made by my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh North (Mr. Fletcher), is that the National Galleries of Scotland and the Museum of Antiquities are clearly not happy about these proposals. My hon. Friend set out this argument. I should like to quote one other passage which I believe I am right in saying my hon. Friend did not quote The trustees of the national galleries gave this view:
Purchase grants are an essential element of the central taxation system which cannot
be detached or put under separate control without upsetting the balance of the whole machine. Since taxation and the laws governing taxation would remain outside the jurisdiction of the Scottish Assembly, we believe that our purchase funds in aid should also be reserved and should not be allowed to go through the Scottish Consolidated Fund.
I think that they had some very powerful reasons for putting that over, as my hon. Friend has said. One reason, of course, is the question of doing a deal with the Treasury about giving pictures in lieu of tax. I do not understand how this could work under the Government's proposals. It has become a common practice, and it is likely to become more common in future, that there will be a tradeoff between works of art going to national galleries and tax concessions relating to capital transfer tax. However, I think that the Minister owes the House an explanation of how this will work if the Government's scheme goes through.
The really important argument, of course, is the one relating to the scale of resources that will be available for the purchase of major works of art. I have already conceded that Baroness Stedman apparently said that a kind of ultimate reserve fund would be available. However, it is a little naive to believe that that would be just as available as its notional equivalent would be available for works of art for English galleries. One will find, I beieve, that the House of Commons will take the view that while at present it is, as it were, generous in supporting Ministers who wish to provide especially important works of art for the Scottish galleries, in the new situation it will not show that generosity.
I think that, perhaps inadvertently, the hon. Member may have given the impression that at present it is comparatively easy to get a special purchase grant. It is not easy. A special purchase grant is extraordinarily difficult to come by. Therefore, when it is suggested that here is something which is fairly easy of access at present, which is likely to become very much more difficult, the answer is that it will not be easy of access under any set of circumstances.
With respect, I do not think that that observation is relevant. It is perfectly true that it is not easy to get a special grant. I do not think I was arguing that it is particularly easy. If I did, I was wrong. But the fact is that the argument really relates to a comparison between the ease with which the Scottish galleries will be able to get a special grant and the ease with which the English and, for that matter, the Welsh and Northern Irish galleries, perhaps, will be able to get a special grant.
I have very little doubt that the new arrangement will make it harder for Scottish galleries to get the really big grant that is necessary to buy the really major work of art. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] My goodness, if the Minister has heard this argument previously, he has heard it 100 times. What devolution will do is to create between the countries of the United Kingdom a degree of jealousy which never existed in the past. This is an absolutely graphic illustration of how this can operate. There is no doubt about it. The mere fact that we are talking about it shows that this change in attitude has taken place.
If the Government come up with a scheme which treats English Members in the way that this scheme does, they cannot then be surprised if English Members occasionally become a bit huffy about the matter. The Minister might take that on board.
Is my hon. Friend aware that in 1975 the National Gallery of Scotland, in Edinburgh, gave up its annual grant—it pooled it—in order to get a special grant? It would not have received a special grant if it had not given up the annual grant, and the negotiations were carried out from one source. Would it not be much more complicated to do that sort of thing if one had to deal with several different authorities at the same time?
My hon. Friend makes a relevant point. What I want to press, however, is that in the world in which we live today we must realise that, when it comes to buying the major works of art, a very great deal of money must be available, and it will be only the central treasuries of rich countries that are able to afford these. I quote in evidence what happened the other day in the sale of the Hirsch collection. An extremely important collection was sold, and it was well known that the German Government intervened in a big way to buy a set of medieval objects which originated from Germany and which they wished to add to the German museums. I do not believe that in the modern world envisaged by the Government the Scottish museums will have much of a chance of getting in on that kind of thing.
Another fact of the modern art market is the existence of the enormous Getty fund, which apparently will be available to buy up major works of art when they come on to the market. Again, as a result of the Government's attitude, the Scottish galleries will be in that much weaker position to have a chance of buying major works of art, because they will operate on a lower level of resources. They will even come up against the competition of the British Rail pension fund, which has now decided to set itself up in the business of competing.
Therefore, as I said at the beginning, I believe that the net outcome of what is put forward in the Government's proposal will be that when it comes to buying major works of art the Scottish galleries will be at a disadvantage.
I also add, finally, one other point which I think is bigger even than this. This has to do with the fact that these museums and art galleries should be seen as part of the heritage of the United Kingdom as a whole. The Government were wise, right from the beginning, about universities. They understood that universities were to do with the United Kingdom as a whole. That was a wise decision on their part. I believe that exactly the same decision should be made about the art galleries because they are part of our common heritage.
If hon. Members take a fiercely nationalistic view, as I dare say the hon. Member who represents the Scottish National Party does—the hon. Member for Galloway (Mr. Thompson)—they will not agree with me. The hon. Member for Galloway thinks that what we should be looking at is a kind of carve-up or a scramble for bits and pieces of what is owned in the United Kingdom. That is his point of view, but I think that that view is profoundly wrong and retrograde. When one is talking of things such as the immensely great galleries that we have in Edinburgh, London and elsewhere, it is very much better to take for once a United Kingdom view rather than the really rather petty and trivial view that is time and again embodied in the devolution proposals.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this debate, because it turns on a serious point. I have had an opportunity to discuss this issue with both the chairman of the trustees and the director of the National Galleries of Scotland, which are in my constituency. It is entirely misleading and unfair to those gentlemen to suggest that what exercises them is their fear of the political judgment of those elected to the Assembly. That is not what is at stake at all. What exercises them is that, by a process of this devolution of the grant system, we are divorcing the financing of the museums from the operation of the tax system which gives rise to the majority of works coming on to the market which should be preserved for the national heritage.
One can illustrate that by reference to capital transfer tax. It has been alleged —I do not know whether it is correct—that CTT has resulted in additional works of art coming on to the market. Some people suggested that the tax should not have been introduced because it would have exactly that effect, of driving abroad some British works of art.
I never took that view. I thought that it would be right for us to say that we should have the CTT because of its wider advantages and the wider reasons for such a tax system but that we should take care to make sure that sufficient information was provided through the Treasury to the national galleries and museums to ensure that we did not lose part of the national heritage through export because it would be able to recycle part of that tax to purchase those works of art.
That seems a sensible and tenable position, but it makes sense and remains tenable only so long as the Government who propose that new form of taxation are also the Government who propose the form and amount of the grant to galleries and museums and so long as the Parliament which approves that system is also the Parliament which approves the appropriation of money for those grants. Once that is severed, as we propose in the Bill by devolving the grants while maintaining the taxation system here, a problem is created.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that his Secretary of State for Education and Science said last year at the Royal Academy banquet that it was her estimate that there were £3,000 million-worth of works of art of national importance still in private hands in the United Kingdom? If they are to be dislodged by capital transfer tax—even the hon. Member must concede that the tax has had some effect recently and no doubt will have a greater effect in future—how would he tackle that subject?
I do not want to get dragged into the wider debate on the national heritage and on whether the capital transfer tax was or was not right. The point that I am making, which remains valid irrespective of one's opinion of CTI, is that, so long as one does not divorce the financing of the purchases of the works of art as a result of that tax from the body which proposes the tax system, one can at least arrange to compensate automatically for the effect of that taxation.
What we propose to do here is to give the right to allocate and determine grants to a body which will have no say whatever in the taxation system. That is where the difficulty arises and that is what gives rise to the trustees' fear. We are not talking, I might say, about some effete hereditary lords, who it is frequently suggested are responsible for these amendments. The chairman of the trustees of the National Galleries is Dr. Jack Kane, who is well known on this side for his contribution both to the Labour movement and to local government. I do not for a moment know what his views are on the general question of devolution. For all I know, he may be an ardent supporter of devolution—
I am sorry that my hon. Friend has ruined my point. We shall have to confer about our prompt lines in greater detail.
On this point, Dr. Kane feels strongly —and not because of his general attitude to devolution, whatever that may be.
The hours that we have spent debating this matter have uncovered considerable confusion in the minds of hon. Members and of the Government about what precisely will be devolved. Apparently the Front Bench now maintain that special grants will not be devolved.
I can only draw attention to the precise wording of the amendment, which was to make clear that the following were not devolved:
Grants with respect to items for the collections of museums and galleries and special grants with respect to items for the collections of libraries.
It is plain from that that it is all grants that the others place is exempting. If the House decides to disagree with the amendment, we are by implication devolving grants. There is nothing in the Bill which makes a specific exemption in the case of grants. That was the point debated at considerable length in the other place, where a consensus arose that, as there is no specific reference to special grants, as the Bill is silent on national museums, it can only be assumed that they are indeed devolved.
My hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Jenkins) has already made the point that special grants are very rare. It is difficult to conceive how their administration can be devolved, because there is no specific administration as such. It comes together only on a rare and ad hoc basis. It is impossible to see how one can arrange for an annual budget for special grants through the block grant when special grants in Scotland arise perhaps only once every five years.
But whatever confusion there has been in the Chamber in the course of this debate, I must come back to the letter I received from my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State the Member for Glasgow, Queen's Park (Mr. McElhone). In our perplexity in the matter, we should not lose sight of the fact that he is the departmental Minister responsible for this issue. He said in his letter of 8th June that Baroness Stedman was
incorrect in stating (column 812) that:
…if any special, extraordinary circumstances should arise in which extra money needs quickly to be made available to save a very valuable work of art, then the Scottish Administration can come to the Treasury to make their case…'
My hon. Friend was saying that Baroness Stedman was incorrect. One can only
assume that what my hon. Friend is saying to me in other words is that in the event of special, extraordinary circumstances for which extra money is needed quickly it will not be open to the Scottish Administration to come to the Treasury.
I entirely accept that that is, in the form that has since been hammered out, without prejudice to the right of the United Kingdom Government to spend money on whatever they please. After all, as we frequently remind ourselves in these debates, Parliament is sovereign. If we decided that we wished to spend special money on education, housing or hospitals in Scotland, we could do so, whatever we had already done in the block grant. But we certainly do not expect to do so, and English Members certainly do not expect to be asked to do so on top of the block grant. It is plain that the same situation arises in respect of grants to museums and galleries.
I hope that the hon. Gentleman and the Minister will accept that it is not my purpose to confuse the matter any further. But it is only fair to point out that, whereas the hon. Gentleman is quoting from a letter to himself from the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, the Minister kindly passed to me earlier a letter to Lord Haig signed by Lady Stedman. In the letter she says:
I had in mind the National Land Fund and not special purchase grants.
I entirely accept that. Of course, it is correct that if one looks at the speech by Baroness Stedman on Report and returns to the letter I received from my hon. Friend the Minister, one finds a specific reference to the National Land Fund. One accepts that it is not devolved, although one must say that, if there is any fund connected with the art world that is quite discredited, it is that fund, which has been used very rarely and very sparingly to preserve works of national heritage. But it appears perfectly plain that grants of all kinds, both annual and special are devolved, are intended to be financed out of the block grant and will therefore be handled by a body which is separate, with no responsibility for the taxation proposals which may have given rise to those works of art coming on to the market. That is what exercises the trustees of the National Galleries—not any concern about the political judgment or the cultural sensibilities of those who may be elected to the Assembly.
What I have said so far is of relevance to the special grant system. I should like to say a few words with relevance to the annual grants, because it is equally important that they should not be devolved. I wish to illustrate that by one case from a sale on the market last year, by the Earl of Rosebery, who offered the painting of Madame de Pompadour, by Drouais to the Treasury in place of estate duty.
The Treasury declined to purchase this picture in exchange for estate duty. Instead it was purchased out of an annual grant, the annual grant of the National Gallery of England and Wales, not that of Scotland. The money then went into the family of the Earl of Rosebery and from there was sent to the Treasury to pay for estate duty.
It might he said that this was an unnecessary and cumbersome procedure. Nevertheless, it was satisfactory in that the work of art was retained and is in a public collection. It was also reasonably fair in that the Treasury paid the money for the annual grant to the National Gallery, which in turn paid it to the Earl of Rosebery, who in turn paid it to the Treasury, so that we were back where we started.
That system operated under the present situation because it was the Treasury which was providing the annual grant and it was the Treasury which received the estate duty. I invite the House to reflect on what the situation would be after devolution. In that situation, when the annual grants for the National Galleries of Scotland come out of the block grants, the position would be as follows. If the National Galleries of Scotland chose to purchase such a picture out of its annual grant that money would flow into the family of say, the Earl of Rosebery and from there into the Treasury. The net result would be that the Scottish Administration would have had to purchase out of its own block grant, out of the funds provided to it for all of its resources in Scotland, a piece of the national heritage. That money would have eventually found its way into the Westminster kitty. But there would be no guarantee of any corresponding increase in the block grant in any future year.
I do not want to interrupt the hon. Gentleman's train of thought, but perhaps he would like to have a rest at this moment. I have found what he has had to say quite fascinating. He has gone on at some length about this picture of Madame de Pompadour. Why was it that Scotland wanted this painting? Admittedly it belonged to the Earl of Rosebery—with strong Scottish connections—but as far as I know he had got it through marriage with the Rothschild girl some time ago and the painting was at Mentmore in England. What is the secret about this?
I am grateful to the hon. Member for having given me a rest from my address to the House, but I do not propose to follow him down the line of argument he has opened up. Scotland did not get the painting, nor was I suggesting that Scotland wished to have it. I chose that merely as an illustration of the position that arises if such a painting is released, whether by the Duke of Sutherland or the Duke of Buccleuch, and is purchased out of annual grant in Scotland. The situation would be that the money which was being used to offset estate duty would be coming out of the block grant for Scotland's administration, not from the Treasury which is the body that would be taking a decision on estate duty. That is why we want to reserve those functions.
I am conscious that there are other Members who wish to take part and I shall accordingly conclude my remarks. I do so by returning to the remark I made earlier and saying that there is nothing in what is proposed to suggest that in any way the reason for reserving these functions to a United Kingdom Parliament is that we are distrustful of the people who might be elected to the Scottish Assembly because we do not believe that they would be culturally inclined or culturally sensible. There is no such suggestion. The argument for retaining the functions of the annual and special grants at United Kingdom level is that that is the area where the financial arrangements make sense. It does not make sense to split those grants from the tax system by putting a decision on the grant in another decision-making centre.
There are many of us who know, from meetings of the all-party Heritage Group outside the House, of the great interest that the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Cook) takes in these matters. I am sure that the whole House has listened with great interest and much respect to what he said against the Government's point of view on this matter.
As the hon. Member rightly pointed out, Scotland could be placed in the position of having to go cap in hand when it needs a special grant for some great art treasure or some addition to the National Library of Scotland for which the Scottish Executive might not have funds—retained from the block grant—to purchase. One of the problems that arise on certain occasions is that these opportunities to purchase arise rather suddenly. They are not the sorts of things for which one can budget in advance. The sums these days can be very considerable. What the hon. Gentleman has said must therefore carry weight.
I wonder if I may divert the debate to the question of libraries, which have been very little mentioned. I happen to be master of the oldest law library, I believe, in England. The Advocates' Library in Edinburgh may be older. I should not like to question that. I am talking of the library of Lincoln's Inn, which has had a continuous life as a library since 1466 and is one of the finest law libraries in this country, with very considerable other parts of it as well.
One thing that I have learnt in the short time that I have been master of the library is that our great libraries cooperate with each other a great deal. I do not say that it would totally destroy co-operation, but it would be a most unfortunate situation if the Scottish National Library were to be subject to quite different financial arrangements from those of the British Library.
If hon. Members will turn to page 63 of the Bill as it left our House and went to the Lords—which is really the copy on which we have to work for the purpose of these Lords amendments—they will see from line 36 that the British Library Act 1972 is not included among the statutes listed in the groups of subjects reserved for the Scottish Assembly and the Scottish Executive.
I have no doubt that it was right for the British Library Act to be excluded from operation in Scotland in that way, but it will create a strained situation. The British Library—which, after all, is a national library for the United Kingdom—will be able to continue to get its funds out of moneys provided by Parliament, at the behest of the Secretary of State, as provided in Section 5 of the British Library Act. That is how the British Library will continue to get its funds. But the Scottish National Library, which, we are told, is to become a responsibility of the Scottish Executive, will have to get its funds, somehow, out of the block grant.
This is an unfortunate disparity in method and principle of financial support between two great libraries which cooperate with each other and which ought to be treated, I suggest, in just the same way. I do not complain at the Government's having treated the British Library in the way that they have. I must make that quite clear.
So much for libraries, but pursuing the theme of financial disparities, to which attention has been drawn in the debate—especially by my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison)—I wonder whether hon. Members would care to look at page 50, which is the one with which we are immediately concerned on this Lords amendment. The heading of Part II of Schedule 10 is
Matters not included in the groups
and item 5 is
Grants for specific purposes relating to reserved functions of local authorities.
The Government in this case, in their wisdom, have recognised that where we have grants for specific purposes for local authorities it is best to keep them out of the block grant for the Assembly, although, logically speaking, if museums, galleries and libraries are to be considered at all, they, too, should be treated—because they will often need grants for specific purposes—in the same way as are the reserved functions of local authorities. That would have meant a degree of financial consistency—a pattern running through this complicated maze of admini-
stration. But no, it seems that we are to have as many disparities as possible.
I accuse no one of any kind of deception. I know Lady Stedman as a persona; friend, although as a political opponent. I certainly would not attribute any kind of mistake to her. She is a most meticulous person. But she had to cope with an interesting and well-founded case which was made against the Government in another place. I should have thought that what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, North (Mr. Fletcher) has, if anything, reinforced that case.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman is making great play with regard to the debate and decision that took place in the other place in relation to this amendment. Can he turn his mind to the same debate, but a different decision, which arose on the Wales Bill? There the debate was similar—it was taken by my noble Friend Lord Donaldson as the Government Minister—but the decision was totally different. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman is to rest his case on a debate and a decision, obviously the debate and decision on the Wales Bill were totally different.
The Minister is asking us to treat Wales and Scotland as though they were one and the same sort of place. That is a solecism on the hon. Gentleman's part. It is the sort of mistake that, for weeks, both sides of the House have managed to avoid, under your guidance, Mr. Speaker, during these many interesting discussions. The hon. Gentleman should not pretend that I have been making great play of this matter. I have not. I made a mere passing reference to what had occurred in the debate on the Scottish side of the problem. Therefore, I hope that the Minister will not expect me to go any further in answering the point that he has just made.
I thought that the hon. Gentleman was leaning forward in his characteristic manner, inviting me to give way, as I so gladly always do to him.
Having, I hope, made something of a case to answer on the question of libraries, I should like to turn to the question of museums and galleries. As the House knows, my roots are largely in Scotland. I know Scotland well. I think that the great gallery next to the university in Glasgow is one of the finest galleries of Victorian art in the world, and certainly in Europe. It is a magnificent gallery, and the collection is beautifully displayed. The National Galleries of Scotland in Edinburgh are also very fine. I have visited various museums and galleries in different parts of Scotland. My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, North made a good point when he said that the present system works well. From personal experience I know that it works well. One does not have to be accused of being a reactionary if one says that if something is already working well it is important not to change it.
For that reason and for the various other reasons which have been advanced in this debate, I hope that the Under-Secretary of State will have a degree of personal authority for making a decision in this matter. Governments vary in their relation to junior Ministers. However, the best Governments, such as the one in which I once served, give a great deal of discretion to junior Ministers. I hope that the hon. Member is armed with sufficient discretion to decide whether to maintain this resistance to the case put forward so ably from the Opposition Benches.
I want to take up one or two of the arguments put forward in this very interesting debate. I refer for a moment to the right hon. and learned Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton), who in a certain sense could be described as my constituent. He referred to the Glasgow art gallery. I think that the existence of this gallery is testimony to the fact that the people of Scotland are capable of producing those who can run art galleries and who care about these matters.
I do not see why, if a project is going well under the present system, it should not be a subject for devolution. The fact that it is going well could mean that it would go better under a devolved system. I do not accept that these institutions must necessarily fare worse under devolution than they do under the present system. Indeed, I take the opposite view.
The hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Cook) spoke about the interesting problem of the recycling of art moneys because of the way these matters are operated. Surely, as between the Assembly and this House it should be possible to operate with flexibility and common sense. I am sure that it can be operated with common sense from the Scottish side, and I do not see why the people of England and Wales should not be capable of the same common sense.
I take up a comment made by the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison). In the course of his remarks, it struck me that he was talking not about a United Kingdom heritage at all. The heritage is a western European heritage. So many of the works of art which we are pleased to look upon as part of a United Kingdom or Scottish heritage were not produced in these islands at all. Therefore, we must raise our sights from these islands and look to the fact that these artefacts, of whatever kind, were very often made furth these islands, and the fact that we possess them at the moment does not give us a prescriptive right to call them our own as though we had created them.
When I go to Bruges, Vienna or Paris, I do not look at works of art and say to myself "This is such and such a country's art." I think of it as part of my own heritage because I am convinced that I belong to this western European Christian tradition, and the fact that I am a Scot does not detract from that fact.
To say that only rich countries can compete is quite disgraceful. To suggest that poor countries have no place because they cannot afford to buy these works of art is quite incredible.
My point was that nowadays the great pictures go for very high prices. I was saying that if a country was not very rich, it would not have much chance of buying such treasures at short notice.
I am glad to exonerate the hon. Member from any crude materialism. However, I think he will agree that it is rather unsatisfactory that the position he has described should exist.
The Minister said that this Lords amendment was paternalism of the worst kind. I agree with him. Throughout our long debates on the Scotland Bill and on the Wales Bill, I have been struck by the fact that we in Wales and in Scotland are being treated in a paternalistic way by this House. I do not want fathers or mothers in this House. I want to find brothers and sisters. I want a fraternal attitude from this House and not a paternal one. I find myself in complete agreement with the Minister on this. I believe that the Scottish Assembly will be able to decide best what is right for Scotland, as I indicated in my remarks on the city of Glasgow art gallery.
The hon. Member for Edinburgh, North (Mr. Fletcher) referred to local politics playing a part. What he really meant, and what the Tories have been saying endlessly, is that the Scots cannot be allowed to decide for themselves. I cannot accept that argument. The hon. Member says he can accept that the day-to-day management of art galleries and libraries should be devolved but that the great decisions should not. I absolutely disagree with him.
However, I agree with the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Jenkins), who made a grand contribution to our debate. The Scots are not Philistines, and all wisdom does not reside in London. There are people in Scotland who are as well qualified as anyone to take decisions about our galleries and libraries.
We must strive to be generous to the people of Scotland and Wales. We must not be narrow-minded and mean-spirited, but must be open-minded and large-hearted. We must devolve as much as we can and show confidence in the people of Scotland and Wales. In that spirit I support the Minister tonight.
In a number of these debates on Lords amendments I have highlighted the fact that a large number of the amendments are before us solely because of the voting of hereditary peers in another place. It is ironic but characteristic that this amendment is here on a vote of 74 to 46—ostensibly a majority of 28. However, without the hereditary peerage the amendment would have been lost by 19 votes.
Those of us who study the debates in another place in greater detail than merely assessing those who voted have noted the spirit of these amendments. It is a spirit of mean and grudging acceptance of devolution as a concept and it shows a willingness to put as many obstacles as possible in the way of creating a strong and viable Assembly. We must judge this amendment in that light.
Has it not occurred to the hon. Member and those who talk about the voting figures of hereditary peers that the hereditary peers seem rather more assiduous in their attendance than the life peers?
The hon. Member is right only in respect of trooping through the Lobbies. There is no indication that the participation in debates is any greater among hereditary peers than among life peers. The fact is that in our efforts to create an institution of the 1970s we are relying on a system which was evolved or created centuries before.
It is clear that this amendment was created because of a view which was articulated here today by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, North (Mr. Fletcher). It is a view which is held strongly in another place—that the Assembly should not be trusted with looking after the elements of Scottish life that are of an esoteric nature. These, it believes, should be dealt with by our peers, both in another place and in society.
The hon. Member for Edinburgh, North said that the major reason for supporting this amendment was that the present system worked well, principally because it was removed from the arena of local politics. We are beginning to reach the nub of the objection to the devolution of this function. It is the fact that people will not be willing to trust the new Assembly.
There has been talk about local politicians. The chairman of the National Galleries of Scotland, who has been quoted on numerous occasions in this debate, was a local politician in Edinburgh. It is being said that the Assembly will not be trusted to make the great decisions that will lie on its shoulders after it is set up. That seems to be the spirit of all the Lords amendments that are before us. I believe that for that reason alone we should oppose this Lords amendment.
The hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) is keen to demonstrate his ability at arithmetic, but he should bear in mind when criticising the other place that 10 years ago it was saved from extinction by the present Lord President of the Council, who is responsible for this Bill and who rarely appears in the House during our discussion of its provisions.
We find in what appears to be a fairly straightforward part of the devolution argument that the Government's plans, even after all these months, are far from clear on this aspect of the Bill. Indeed, that applies to the Bill as a whole.
Two letters have passed across the Table in an effort to clarify the Government's position. I hope that the Minister will acknowledge when he replies to the debate that Baroness Stedman was referring to the National Land Fund and not to special purchase grants, which was the information given to the House by the Minister when he intervened earlier. I do not suggest that at the next General Election the Stedman letter will be as hot a potato as was the Zinoviev letter in 1924, but it has been the hot potato in this debate. The problem remains because the Stedman letter excludes the National Land Fund and not the special purchase grants.
In his reply, the Minister might tell the House who is in favour of the Government's arrangements. We have heard from all the leading people involved in these institutions in Scotland not a word of support for the Government's proposals in this repect. The hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Jenkins) was too ready to believe, in face of the evidence presented to him, the words of the Minister. If he considers the debate in the other place, he may think more carefully about how he will vote when the time comes.
I was grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison) for his contribution to the debate. He said it was naive to believe that, if the Government have their way with this legislation, some extra-special fund or pleading would still be available to the art world in Scotland. I agree that in the modern world it is only the treasuries of the larger countries which can participate in purchases of this kind. That is why this amendment is so important.
The truth is that the Government, in their zeal to find something for the Assembly to do, are in the process of demoting the arts in Scotland. That was implied in the contributions of a number of right hon. and hon. Members, not least in the remarks of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton). I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend for bringing in the question of the libraries, which, I agree, tended to be left aside in the opening part of the debate. He pointed out correctly that the Scottish Library would be severely disadvantaged under the Government's proposals.
The hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Cook) made an important contribution which I am sure we all appreciated. Sometimes I am not quite sure whether the National Gallery is in his constituency or mine, running as it does above the boundary line. The hon Member for Galloway (Mr. Thompson) in his contribution was talking not about devolution but of separation in the emotion that he put by way of argument.
I hope that the Under-Secretary of State will clear up the confusion to which he added in opening the debate. I hope that he will help us to understand exactly what the Government's policy is in this matter.
The effect of the amendment would be that all purchase funds—annual purchase grants and special grants—in respect of Scottish museum and galleries would be reserved and the responsibility for special purchase grants alone in respect of the Scottish libraries would be reserved. So the amendment would cause the greatest confusion imaginable. That is one of the best reasons for rejecting it.
It was a Government amendment intended to tidy up a ridiculous situation so that the Bill would come back in a sensible state.
The hon. Member for Edinburgh, North (Mr. Fletcher) always asks for examples of those in favour of what the Government are suggesting. I remind him that the galleries were never in favour of admission charges and that the Conservative Government applied such charges against their will, whereas in this case the National Library of Scotland is in favour of devolution of annual purchase grants and the National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland and the Royal Scottish Museum both favour devolution of all purchase grants. In other words, the institutions with which we are dealing are in favour of what I am suggesting to the House. Having asked for and received that information the hon. Gentleman will, I hope, act on the advice that those institutions are giving, will not follow his own misguided feelings, and will join the Government in rejecting the Lords amendment.
Those hon. Members who have referred to the letter sought to brush aside the important references to the arrangements to which my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Cook) referred—
The above-mentioned arrangements are, of course, without prejudice to the freedom of action by the Government to make funds available in any case it thinks fit for any purchase…
That sentence in the letter is just as important as the points drawn on for the
sake of supporting the argument for accepting the amendment. If the House does not accept my advice it will leave the situation in the museums, art galleries and libraries of Scotland in a chaotic situation. For all these reasons, I ask the House to accept my advice and to disagree with the Lords amendment.
Before the guillotine falls, may I draw attention to the point made in another place by Lord Robbins? There is a special problem in Scotland—namely, the fact that the trustees of the Getty foundation have on interest more money at their disposal than has almost any national gallery in the world. In this situation, unless there are vast sums of ready money potentially available, the problem of the Scottish galleries—
In page 61, column 2, leave out lines 32 to 41 and insert:
'Not included, except so far as relating to the insulation of buildings near aerodromes against aircraft noise and vibration and except for—
Not included, except so far as relating to inland waterway transport and grants to assist the provision of facilities for freight haulage by rail and except for the matters dealt with in sections 5(1) to (4) and 6 to 8 so far as relating to road service licences or permits under section 30 of the Transport Act 1968 (c.731).'.—[Mr. John Smith.]