I beg to move,
That the draft Scotland Act 1978 (Repeal) Order 1979, which was laid before this House on 22 March 1979 in the last Parliament, be approved.
We start today's debate in a rather curious situation in that I find myself inviting the House to approve an order the draft of which was laid by a previous Government of a different complexion. In theory, that should almost guarantee unanimity between both sides of the House, but I think that I might be extending my luck a little further than I should if I were to assume that result. It might be truer to say that I am today inviting the House to approve an order that the previous House insisted should be laid in certain circumstances. I think it true to say also that the previous Government did not agree with the House on that matter. The Conservative Party did so agree and still does.
The order repeals the Scotland Act 1978, and I shall now say a word or two about the history of events which have led us to the present position.
The previous Government promoted two devolution statutes for Scotland, one of which had to be abandoned but the second of which became law. I think it right to say that the House as a whole, on both sides, displayed the gravest unease about both those devolution statutes, and any perusal of the Official Report will show that even on the then Government side there was a serious contradiction between the effect of most of the votes cast and the tenor of most of the speeches made.
I think it fair to say also that even the second attempt at legislation would not have succeeded without the provisions for a referendum that were written into it. It is also a fact that the particular referendum provisions as a result of which we are considering the order today were promoted not by an hon. Member from my side of the House but by a Member of the then Government party, and that those provisions were carried by votes from both main parties.
I refer, of course, to what has been called the 40 per cent. rule. Many unkind things have been said about the details of the provision which prescribed that 40 per cent. rule, and even about my predecessor's interpretation of it in his calculation of the number who would be entitled to vote. Fortunately, these details do not need to concern us now. The character of the referendum result ensures that. But I ought to remind the House, before it votes today, of the principle which lay behind the referendum provision and the 40 per cent. rule, since we should bear in mind that the referendum is merely advisory to Parliament and is not in itself substantive.
That principle was, I think, that while it might be perfectly reasonable for a narrow majority of votes cast on a normal legislative issue to carry the day and make the change—an issue that would be readily amendable or repealable in the light of experience or in the light of a change of Government—legislation effecting major constitutional changes that would be almost irreversible in practice should have the support of a substantial majority of the electorate affected before being given full and final effect in law.
That seems to me and to the Government to be an entirely respectable principle. Indeed, it is enshrined in the constitutions of most countries which run free democratic institutions throughout the world.
I see the argument that the Secretary of State is developing—that somehow or other the Scotland Act was a different matter because it represented a constitutional change—but does he agree that nothing was entrenched in the Scotland Act to preserve it and it could at any time have been repealed by the House?
Yes, I entirely agree, but, to be totally realistic, I think that very few people looking seriously at the effects after the Scotland Act was put into effect could realistically envisage it being entirely reversed, even if the trend of opinion went against it thereafter. To that extent, therefore, although technically the hon. Gentleman is perfectly right, I do not think it realistic to envisage its reversal, and I think that that is an ample justification of a 40 per cent. rule, or something similar, which, as I say, is pretty common practice in constitutions throughout the free world.
Although the expression of that principle in the 40 per cent. provision in the Act was stoutly contested by the promoters of the Scotland Act, those same people contended no less stoutly that the test would be passed with ease. In their defence they prayed in aid the opinion polls on the subject which were regularly held over a considerable period from 1975 onwards. I think it worth while to reflect on these polls and to note the lesson from them—not necessarily the lesson that polls get things wrong but the lesson that the interpretation of polls requires great care.
If one walked up to a man in the street and said "Would you like some aspects of your government improved and brought under more local democratic control?", leaving him to suppose that these improvements could be secured without cost of any kind, it would be most surprising if he were to answer "No." I mean no disrespect to the pollsters, but that, in effect, is what most of them did. Indeed, I think it surprising that the apparently considerable majority in favour of substantial devolution suggested by most of the polls in the years 1976 and 1977 was not much greater. In most cases, at any rate, no one said to those canvassed "Of course, these arrangements would cost a good deal. There might be problems in working out a responsible system of financing them. They might prejudice Scotland's influence at Westminster, and they might set up a train of events as a result of which Scotland would stumble into independence." Nobody said those things. The polls got the simple pat answer.
My noble Friend Lord Home made his position very clear in that speech, and there was a great deal more to it than that. It is exactly matters of that kind that I hope we shall be going over in all-party talks in which I very much hope the right hon. Gentleman will take part.
In his introduction, the Secretary of State is treating us to a logical analysis of the devolution process, its significance and its future. Does he not think it illogical for his Government to propose repeal of the Act and to tell the people of Scotland "We shall discuss the question of devolution after the order has been passed and the Act repealed"—in short, shooting first and asking questions afterwards? Is that not illogical?
I do not think that there is any illogicality. The hon. Gentleman must bear in mind that in the referendum the people of Scotland were given a full and fair chance to pronounce upon the Scotland Act. Given the nature of the result of the referendum, it would be strange for the House to push on with the Scotland Act or anything like it, bearing in mind that such a clear chance was given to everybody to express his opinion. I shall be saying more about that and I hope that my words will set the hon. Gentleman's mind at rest. I know that he has made a study of these matters over many years.
During the referendum campaign representatives of all opinions advanced the arguments to which I have referred. The Scots electorate took note of them, attached great weight to them and voted accordingly. I acknowledge that a slim majority of the votes cast—not a majority of the electorate—was in favour of implementing the Act. I acknowledge that that slim majority, even on a turnout of 63 per cent., would be held to justify the election of a Government or, for example, an assortment of changes in health, education or housing. However, those changes could be undone a few years later by a different Government, or even by the same Government if circumstances changed and they wished to do so.
As I have said, it is unrealistic to imagine that that could have been done with the Scotland Act if it had been pushed through in the face of the decision taken.
As a result of widespread propaganda, during the referendum campaign, that an abstention would be the same as a "No" vote, there has been argument whether many of the large number who abstained were "No" voters under a misapprehension. I think that many of them were.
Many believed that an abstention was the same as a "No" vote. They had ample excuse for taking that view. They were deliberately encouraged to think along those lines by many people during the course of the campaign. I shall pray in aid the arguments that some of them advanced. First, I refer to the words of no less a person than Mrs. Helen Liddell, the Secretary of the Labour Party in Scotland. During a party political broadcast on 24 January 1979, she said:
Can I remind you that if you do not go to the polls on March 1st, then you will be counted as a 'No' voter?
That is pretty clear. Nobody could have been in any doubt about that. If that was not a sufficiently high authority, there was the hon. Member for Stirling, Falkirk and Grangemouth (Mr. Ewing), a member of the previous Government, who at a "Labour Says 'Yes'" meeting at Glasgow on 23 February 1979 said:
Anyone who does not vote cannot be put in the section which is counted 'Yes'. Therefore, they must be part of that which is counted against.
That was clear and straightforward. The Scottish TUC weighed in with a leaflet, as it so often helpfully does. The leaflet included these words:
Only a 'Yes' vote recorded will count. There must be a clear understanding that every abstention equals a 'No' vote.
I am beginning to be convinced of the argument myself as I read these quotations. I have one more authority. At a "Labour Says 'Yes'" campaign meeting, a Mr. Frank Reilly said:
An abstention on polling day will be recorded as a 'No' vote.
I think that I have said enough to make it clear that there was a sustained campaign and effort to make it clear to those who were about to vote in the referendum that if they felt that they could not be bothered to vote, if they had difficulty in doing so or if they were in any way doubtful, they did not need to bother, because if they stayed at home and did not vote that action would count as a "No" vote.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that all the statements to which he has referred relate only to the 40 per cent. rule? Does he further agree that the terms of the 40 per cent. rule meant that abstention counted as a "No" vote and that that did not apply to any other aspect of the referendum?
I should love to be a fly on the wall and see and hear the hon. Gentleman explain that in the course of election canvassing. What a complicated and sophisticated parliamentarian's argument! We were dealing with ordinary people who were about to vote. They were told over and over again in broadcasts and at meetings that if they stayed at home and did not vote the fact that they did not cast their vote would count as a "No" vote. They believed that. Those who did not vote sat happily at home, sure in the knowledge that they were helping the "No" cause—that which they wanted to support.
The only responsible and reasonable conclusion that can be drawn from the referendum result is that 67 per cent. of the Scottish electorate are either positively opposed to the Scotland Act or do not feel that they want it enough to bother to vote for it. That is the answer to all those who said, when the 40 per cent. requirement was produced, that although they did not like it it would be handsomely exceeded. They were confident that that would happen. In fact it was not exceeded, in spite of the propaganda that was issued, excerpts from which I have quoted.
The Labour Party professes to believe that the Scotland Act was a necessary response to the aspirations, if not the demands, of an overwhelming majority of Scots. I do not think that anyone can seriously argue that now. If constitutional changes of such a character and magnitude are to be recommended now, that can be only on the ground that such changes are good for the Scots regardless of whether they want them. Although I do not believe in that, it is a tenable position and it is the position that members of the Scottish National Party have taken all along. We can see where it got them on 3 May. I hope and believe that that is not a position that the Labour and Liberal Parties wish to adopt, because it does not hold water.
Does that mean that the right hon. Gentleman is now officially dissociating himself and the Government from the view that was expressed by many Conservatives in Scotland, including Lord Home of the Hirsel that while they were in favour of devolution they were not in favour of the Bill? Is he saying that the Conservative Party and the Government are no longer in favour of devolution, even in a token way?
No, I have said no such thing. I have been addressing myself to the referendum and the 40 per cent. requirement. I shall be saying something about the next stage as the Government see it.
I do not feel that the House needs a long and detailed persuasion from the Government. No doubt it wants from me an indication of the way in which the Government propose to proceed after the repeal of the Scotland Act, which I hope will be accepted by the House agreeing to the order.
For long enough the Conservative Party has advocated that all parties represented in Scotland should come together in an attempt to establish common ground for the scope and direction of any improvement of the government of Scotland. In the latter days or weeks of the last Parliament I understand that that became the position of the Labour Party. However, that is for others to confirm.
My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House and I have already initiated approaches to the parties with a view to launching talks. Whether they are launched, and how, will depend on the results of our preliminary discussions with the parties individually, when we shall discuss how they think such talks should proceed.
The House will want me today to indicate what the Government think party representatives might talk about at the talks. We do not have closed minds about that. We are ready to listen to what others have to say about the scope of the talks as well as about their form. However, there are some matters that seem to the Government to be already self-evident in the light of the history of the subject in the previous Parliament and the referendum result.
The House may remember that in December 1978, at the beginning of the referendum campaign, the Conservative Party published a pamphlet setting out the four options that appeared to it to be theoretically available. They were, first, an improvement in the procedures of Parliament, especially effecting Scotland; secondly, an inquisitorial Assembly for Scotland; thirdly, an Assembly with legislative and executive powers; and, fourthly, quasi-federalism.
The fourth option was not one for Scotland only. It would have affected the whole country and it was included because the Conservative Party felt that an Assembly for Scotland with only legislative and executive powers would import an asymmetry into the Government of Britain which would be inherently unstable and dangerous. We considered that if the Scots expressed in the referendum a decisive wish to have such an Assembly their wish would have to be granted, but in that event it would probably be inevitable that we would be dragged fairly rapidly towards quasi-federalism in the interests of the political contentment and stability of the United Kingdom as a whole.
In December 1976 the previous Government published a consultative document entitled "Devolution: the English dimension". In that document were canvassed possibilities of constitutional change in England. I understand that the response was minimal. It demonstrated the absence of even the beginning of a demand for constitutional change in England. However, if I am wrong on that I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will correct me. I suspect that the vast majority of Members of Parliament representing English constituencies would consider that the result confirmed their own observations in their constituencies over many years. Federalism of any kind would have to be forced—at present, anyway—on an apathetic, if not vigorously reluctant, country.
In the Government's view the referendum must be taken as a reflection of the Scottish electorate's opinion of the third option in the Conservative Party pamphlet to which I referred—that is, a directly elected Scottish Assembly with legislative and executive powers.
The Conservative Party consistently argued that the Scotland Act had significant defects, even as an example of that option, apart altogether from the difficulties presented by the option in any other form. The Conservative Party was not entirely alone in the matter. I give one distinguished example. I do not need to remind the House of the most distinguished and excellent part played in the devolution debates by the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell), who earned the respect of hon. Members on both sides of the House for the consistency of what he said. Indeed, as a result of what he did, his constituency has become as famous a name as Schleswig-Holstein was some 100 years ago, in view of its effect on European affairs generally. West Lothian gave its name to an important, intractable question, which remained unanswered.
The West Lothian question was one of the few detailed points in the Scotland Act which played a part in the referendum campaign. That campaign turned on a few basic issues. On the one hand it was argued that the Scotland Act would give Scots greater democratic control and more freedom of decision in the various areas of government now dealt with mostly by the Scottish Office. On the other hand it was argued that the scheme would add to the cost and complexity of government and give rise to the fear that it would lead to the loss of Scottish influence at Westminster, if not ultimately to the separation that only a small minority of Scots want.
We believe that no amount of tinkering with the provisions of the Scotland Act could make more than a marginal difference on any of those counts, upon which the electorate clearly expressed pretty good reservations. The Government therefore cannot see what useful purpose we would serve by further discussion of the Scotland Act. We had a referendum. On the basis of the result of that referendum, for the reasons that I have outlined, I am in no doubt that the House will decide on the repeal of the Act tonight.
The implication of that is that it would be improper to promote any further version of a Scottish Assembly with legislative and executive powers without holding another referendum. I do not think that the House would suggest—I am certain that the Scottish electorate would not accept it—that it made any sense to invite that electorate in the course of this Parliament to pronounce yet again on a scheme which it would see as little different from the one it had already greeted so unenthusiastically.
The Conservative Party pamphlet also outlined the possibility of an inquisitorial assembly which would have neither legislative nor executive powers.
Do I gather from all that that the Minister argues that he specifically rules out a legislative assembly as an option? He appears to be saying that the decision on that was taken in the referendum and that tinkering would make no difference. Is that option now being ruled out?
The Government's view is that anything remotely similar to the Scotland Act could hardly be devised and put through without there being yet another referendum. The Government do not think that we would be thanked by anyone for imposing yet another referendum on the people on a matter that was so similar to the Scotland Act. That is a tenable position to take.
The question of the inquisitorial assembly was one of the matters suggested in the Conservative Party pamphlet. Proposals of that kind have been publicly current for some time but, in the Government's observation, they signally failed to attract much support from any quarter.
It is noteworthy that as the referendum revealed the profound unease of the Scottish electorate for proposals for an Assembly with legislative and executive powers, there has been no sign of a revival of interest in the lesser option of a purely inquisitorial assembly. Therefore, the Government do not wish to press such proposals in the all-party talks, although it would be perfectly open for them to be raised again in those talks if any party especially wished to do so.
There remains the subject of the improvement of parliamentary procedures for the handling of Scottish business. Since the referendum the possibilities in that direction have attracted considerable public notice. In any case, the House should regard it as a duty to make its procedures as effective as possible. It seems to the Government that the right way to start on the forthcoming talks is by considering the scope for improvement in the handling of Scottish business in Parliament. Any consideration of the need for the improvement of Scottish government outside the House should, after all, proceed on the basis of clear knowledge of the best that this House can achieve for Scotland.
There are many important points that could be discussed. First, a Scottish Select Committee could be set up to act as an effective watchdog on the programmes and policies of the Scottish Office. It could sit in Scotland, as others have done before. If the House wished, its proceedings could be broadcast live, or recorded, so that Scots could feel much closer to the hard work that their Members of Parliament do.
There is also the question whether the Scottish Standing Committees—or some of them—should sit in Scotland, for the same reasons. Other Scottish parliamentary proceedings could also be considered. Part of the task of the all-party talks, which I hope will start before long, will be to sort out all those ideas.
Why was no announcement of a Scottish Select Committee made in the recent list of Select Committees covering Government Departments? The former Shadow Secretary of State, Mr. Teddy Taylor, in the election campaign and the referendum, told the people of Scotland that a Scottish Select Committee could be set up in advance of any Conservative devolution proposals. He said that it could sit in Edinburgh and discuss the various methods of bringing about some form of devolution.
If I had arranged for such a motion to be included in the general motion on Select Committees I should have been accused of pre-empting the scope of the all-party talks. That matter could well be included in the talks. I hope that my intentions are clear that we should discuss this. I did not include the matter in the other motion for that reason. I hope that the all-party talks will take this matter seriously as one of the improvements that we could make.
We shall look into that. Approaches were made to the other parties on this matter. I hope that they will be renewed. The communications clearly have not reached the right hon. Gentleman. I must pass messages by another method to his office and see whether we can reach agreement.
I confined my remarks to the four options that were listed in the pamphlet to which I referred. We have not so far identified any other options in general terms. However, if the other parties consider that there are additional options, we shall be prepared to listen attentively to what they have to say.
In drafting the pamphlet my right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Cleveland and Whitby (Mr. Brittan) set out three principles which must be observed in seeeking constitutional change if the country is to preserve its unity.
These principles were, first that each part of the State must belong to the Union on similar and compatible, though not necessarily identical, terms, so that all citizens axe members of the State on the same basis, bearing the same relationship to those in power and authority at each level of Government. Secondly, the lines of responsibility must be absolutely clear, so that the citizen is certain where power, authority and responsibility for any decisions lie and from whom he should seek redress for any grievance that he may have. Thirdly, all citizens should share the same basic civil rights in their relationship with members and officials of Parliament, Government and the State.
Whatever options are considered, I believe that they must be tested against those three principles, or something similar. The compliance of the Scotland Act with those principles is, to say the very least, doubtful. Clearly the Scottish electorate perceived that doubt, even if there are still a few hon. Gentlemen remaining who themselves have not perceived it. Therefore, I ask the House to repeal the Scotland Act today. In doing that I know, and every right hon. and hon. Gentleman in the House knows, that the Scotland Act has very few friends.
We have debated this subject for almost 10 years. What, I wonder, have we learnt from it. First, we should have learnt that constitutional change cannot easily or lightly be used as a gimmick for gaining votes in the short term. Politicians and the media have vied with each other over the last 10 years to express enthusiasm for one or other version of this cause. It is clear now that the people were much more hard-headed and sceptical about what was happening than anyone gave them credit for, and the referendum proved that they were much harder-headed than many of those who sought to advise them.
Secondly, we have surely learned that devolution by itself produces no panaceas for the problems that we politicians are elected to try to solve. The main effect of the devolution cause over the past seven or eight years has been not to solve any of our problems but to divert our attention from them. Indeed, it has delayed solutions to many matters which are of far greater importance to the average person living in the average constituency in Scotland.
Thirdly, we have surely learnt that the electorate in Scotland has a higher opinion of our existing constitution than many of the politicians who are operating that constitution. With that in mind, I believe that we can now see the way ahead fairly clearly on this issue.
First of all, we should proceed to seek a measure of agreement on the next step that we should take on devolution, as a consequence of the decisions which I hope the House will make today. I do not believe—I think that most people in Scotland do not believe—that vast changes are required or called for, but sensible improvements in our system should be sought and tried out. No one will get out of these talks all that he wants and anyone who goes into them with that intention will be disappointed.
Everyone should be prepared to give the talks and what comes out of them a fair trial, and should give a fair test and trial to any changes that may emerge. With regard to the future, surely, having dealt with this matter—which I hope we shall do without undue delay—we in this House would then be freer to concentrate our minds and energies on the real task to which our constituents expect us to give top priority, which is the changing of our economic attitudes and the balance in our economy so that we can end the years of decline that have been such a disappointment to us all for so long. We must build a basis for new prosperity for our people, which is so much more relevant to the daily lives of our constituents than any arguments about the Scotland Act or anything similar.
It is because the Scotland Act, by itself, is irrelevant to this important task that I, with great confidence, ask the House to approve this order and repeal the Act.
The speech that we have just heard from the Secretary of State for Scotland was distinguished by one think only, and that is that at long last we have discovered the Conservative view on devolution. It is, quite simply, that the Conservatives are against devolution in any shape or form. That is what we suspected all along. It is what we suspected at the time of the 1974 general election, when the Conservatives said quite explicity in their election manifesto that they were in favour of devolution and an Assembly for Scotland. It is what we suspected during the referendum campaign, when the Tory argument in Scotland was not that the voting was about devolution per se. We were told in February and March of this year that the argument was about the specific devolution proposals in the Scotland Act. But the Tory Party, so we were constantly assured, was actually in favour of some other undisclosed kind of devolution for Scotland.
That was the most utter hypocrisy and humbug. The speech to which we have just listened from the Secretary of State, who is one of the people who said in the past that he was in favour of devolution, was absolute and utter humbug. At least we now know where we stand. I shall return a little later to the question of inquisitorial assemblies and Select Committees, and so on. But to try to pretend to this House, much less to the people of Scotland, that talking about a Select Committee on Scottish affairs is anything to do with devolution for Scotland is an insult to the intelligence of the Scottish electorate. It has absolutely nothing to do with devolution. I shall want to come back to that matter a little later.
We shall vote against the repeal order that is before the House today. We took the view, and still take the view, that before this order was debated and before any decision was taken on it by the House, the all-party talks that the Government promised should have taken place. We oppose very strongly the proposition that the Government are putting to the House today, which is that we should repeal the Scotland Act before those talks take place.
If the Government have as little to contribute to the talks as was indicated by the Secretary of State today, I doubt whether it would be worth while having the talks in the first place. Obviously, when we receive from the Government side the communications which have mysteriously gone astray, perhaps we can consider that matter.
Let me make it clear to the House that the Labour Government—the Opposition now—did not accept the 40 per cent. rule that was written into the Scotland Act. It was an unfair rule, and I think that the Secretary of State's attempt to defend it today was a rather strained one. Of course, there is an exact precedent for this argument—the EEC referendum. What we were committing ourselves to in entering the EEC, and what we have committed ourselves to, was a constitutional change. Indeed, it was a constitutional change of greater import than the Scotland Act, and it is one from which it is very difficult for this country to disengage itself, even should the people change their attitude towards British membership.
No 40 per cent. rule was required for the EEC referendum. There are no 40 per cent. rules for general elections. There are no 40 per cent. rules in the European Assembly elections, which is just as well, because fewer than 40 per cent of the electorate voted during those elections. The 40 per cent. rule was unfair and unprecedented, and we did not accept it.
Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that Parliament said that there would be a 40 per cent. rule. Is not Parliament important, or does he disregard what Parliament passed in the Act?
I said that the 40 per cent. rule was written into the Act. The obligation on the Government is to lay the order. There is no obligation on the House to vote for the order, and we shall be voting against it. But the important thing about the referendum result—and no amount of logic chopping and argument can set this aside—is that a majority of the people of Scotland who voted in the referendum voted "Yes". That is the important fact about the referendum.
I admit right away that the majority was not as decisive as those of us who were supporting the "Yes" campaign would have liked. Nevertheless, the fact is that a majority of those who voted in Scotland voted "Yes". But in any case, it is a very dangerous argument, particularly for the right hon. Gentleman, to say that, 33 per cent. of those who were eligible to vote having voted "Yes", that should be very easily set aside, because in the last general election in the United Kingdom as a whole the total number of those eligible to vote who voted for the present Conservative Government was exactly 33 per cent. Looking at the Scottish result, one finds that the number of voters in Scotland among those who were eligible to vote who voted Conservative at the last general election was not 33 per cent., and not 40 per cent. but 23 per cent.
The fact is that the Tories have no majority in Scotland. They have no particular mandate from the people of Scotland. I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that he might be just a little less arrogant in describing the views of the people of Scotland, in view of the miserable results that his party had at the last general election in Scotland, when 23 per cent. of those eligible to vote voted Tory.
The right hon. Member talks of arrogance on the part of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland. Does he have no concern at all for the fact that within Scotland there were significant regional variations in the way in which the "Yes"/"No" vote split and that the effect of putting through the Act would be to set Scot against Scot within Scotland?
If the hon. Gentleman wants examples of Government action setting Scot against Scot, he need look no further than the record of his Government in power over the last few weeks in Scotland.
In view of the result of the referendum, which I admit freely was not as decisive as we would have wished it to be, the Labour Government took the view that it was sensible that there should be talks before the further procedures on the Act took effect. I am sorry to say that, because of a combination of votes of the Opposition parties, there was no opportunity before the general election for these talks to take place, because, of course, the Government were defeated. My right hon. Friend the then Prime Minister said that when the Scottish National Party voted for the defeat of the Government it was the first occasion on which he had known the turkeys to vote voluntarily for Christmas. For the SNP, that was very true. Christmas came a little early, namely, on 3 May. Many of the SNP Members who then voted against the Government—extremely misguidedly—are no longer with us, but they must bitterly regret the action that they took.
Of course, our view before the election—the view that we expressed in our manifesto and the view that we express in this House today concerning the Act—is that there should certainly be all-party talks but they should be held on the basis of the Scotland Act, which is already on the statute book, which was passed by this House, and which was given a majority vote by the people of Scotland in the referendum.
The problem all through—in all these debates about all-party talks and the rest—is that it has never been possible until this very moment, this afternoon, when the Secretary of State spoke, to find out exactly what it was that the Tory Party was in favour of in relation to devolution. Of course, the Tories always tell us the things that they are against. They were against the Scotland Act, against separation, against federalism, against this, that and the other. But not until this afternoon have we had any indication from the Tory Party what it favours in the way of devolution for Scotland. When the disclosure came this afternoon, we were told that the Tories did not favour any measure of devolution at all.
If the right hon. Gentleman has any hope of any kind of inter-party discussions —if he wishes these to be other than a complete hypocrisy and a façade—the Government will have to do something better than to say that it might be a good idea for Scotland if we had a Select Committee sitting specifically to deal with Scottish affairs, because the debate about devolution has gone on for a very long time in Scotland.
The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the Royal Commission that was established in 1969, but the debate about devolution and the government of Scotland very much precedes the establishment of the Royal Commission. It really is necessary for every party in this House to take a view about the way in which it believes that Scottish government should develop. The view of the Labour Party was set out in the Scotland Act, which was passed in 1978.
I want very briefly to run over the approach that the Labour Government took to devolution, which resulted in the Scotland Act, because it is exactly the same approach as we have at present, and it represents exactly the same view as I hold on devolution at present.
First, if we are to do anything significantly to change the government of Scotland in the direction of devolution, anything that we do must involve a transfer of real power. There is no point in fiddling around with details and trivialities. If there is to be a significant change in government in Scotland, it must involve a transfer of real power.
Secondly, that cannot be done by the expansion of the present Scottish Office. Those of us who have served there, and all Scottish Members, know the way in which the range of functions of the Scottish Office has been built up over the years. It is a very significant range of functions.
In a newspaper interview the other day, the Secretary of State boasted that he had greater powers in the Scottish Office now than any other Secretary of State had ever had. That is not strictly true, because he has not increased the powers of the Scottish Office in any way since the new Government came into office.
What the right hon. Gentleman omitted to mention was that so far as he has increased powers in relation to industry, manpower and the rest, that is a result of decisions taken by the previous Labour Government. For example, the Scottish Development Agency, which is of very considerable importance to the life and industrial development of Scotland—and the SDA was to be devolved under the Scotland Act—was established by the Labour Government, and the only contribution that the right hon. Gentleman has made so far is that he is deducting £20 million from the budget of the SDA for the forthcoming year. That will do immense damage to the industrial development of Scotland, which the right hon. Gentleman, in his closing remarks, had the impudence to say was the real problem facing Scotland now. How he squares that with what he has done with the SDA no one on the Opposition Benches, at least, can fathom.
Thirdly, if we were to have a transfer of real powers, there had to be a directly elected Assembly in Scotland. It could not be done in any other way. It could not be done, as I have said, by the expansion of the powers of the Scottish Office.
Fourthly, that Assembly would have to be involved in a wide range of functions. Again, that is inevitable in view of the very wide range of functions already dealt with by the Scottish Office. The guiding rule on which the Labour Government worked in deciding which of the functions should be transferred to the Scottish Assembly was quite simply this: anything and everything that could be done in Scotland without detriment to the economic and political unity of the United Kingdom ought to be done in Scotland and ought to be among the functions devolved to the Assembly.
Fifthly, any Scottish Assembly worthy of the name should have legislative powers, given the general legal background in Scotland and the separate Scottish legislation on many domestic affairs. The Assembly should have powers without having a constant and fussy interference from Westminster, whether on legislation or anything else. That was also written into the Scotland Act.
We also took the view that there would have to be satisfactory financial arrangements. It would be preferable to provide a marginal revenue-raising power for the Scottish Assembly. If we cannot find a practical way of doing that, there will have to be some form of satisfactory financial arrangement. In approaching the problem of devolution in Scotland we had in mind continually that nothing should be done that would imperil the ultimate political and economic unity of the United Kingdom.
I made those points briefly. They could be elaborated significantly. If devolution for Scotland is approached on the basis that I have outlined, and on the basis that one is interested in a real transfer of power—a real addition to decision-making in Scotland—the result is something like the Scotland Act 1978. If we go through the same procedure again—all-party talks, discussions, studies—and seek a transfer of power to Scotland, it requires a legislative Assembly like the one provided for in the Scotland Act.
Is the right hon. Gentle man not making the precise case that I presented? If one goes through the exercise in the order that he has outlined, one gets something similar to the Scotland Act, which was detested by a large number of his hon. Friends and rejected in practice by the electorate in the referendum.
That is utterly untrue. It the right hon. Gentleman accepts that argument, he and the rest of the Tory Party might have had the intellectual honesty not to pretend during the debates on the Scotland Act that they had another kind of devolution in mind that would produce a result totally different from the Scotland Act. If one is interested in real devolution, one cannot come to a conclusion that is much different from the Scotland Act. I do not set aside the federal solution. That is perfectly compatible with the points that I have made. Real transfer of power to Scotland involves a legislative Assembly with a wide range of powers.
The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the options offered by his right hon. Friend who is now the Secretary of State for Defence and the hon. and learned Member for Cleveland and Whitby (Mr. Brittan) that were published in December 1978. He talked about a Select Committee. That does not involve any transfer of power. It is simply a way of organising business in the House. I do not want to discuss today the functions, virtues or disadvantages of Select Committees. I have my own views, and we are to debate that matter next Monday. There are different views in different parts of the House, but to confuse a Select Committee with devolution is unforgiveable. The right hon. Gentleman knows better, and is being intellectually dishonest.
If we look at what the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) said about the Select Committee in the December 1978 publication, we find a most extraordinary situation. He said:
Perhaps the most important proposal is for the establishment of a number of select committees to cover the work of government departments. Though the committee did not recommend a Select Committee for Scotland, it failed to do so only because of the uncertainty over Scotland's future constitutional position.
If the Government's view is that that uncertainty should be removed by the repeal of the Scotland Act 1978, it is extraordinary that in the motion for debate next Monday on Select Committees there is no provision for a Select Committee on Scottish Affairs. We have 12 Select Committees recommended for next Monday. Even this modest addition to the oversight of Scottish Affairs—and it has nothing to do with devolution—is not provided for by the Government, in the motion.
The right hon. Gentleman's suggestion that the Scottish Grand Committee should meet in Edinburgh can be looked at if that is considered to be for the convenience of the House. It might well prove to be for the inconvenience of the House.
I am in favour of sending to Edinburgh, to sit on the Scottish Grand Committee, all Conservative Members from English constituencies who voted consistently and made violent speeches against the Scotland Act, and talked about the unity of the United Kingdom and the need to preserve it. That might prove the quickest way to convert them to the virtues of the Scotland Act.
The right hon. Gentleman said that there were difficulties even about that, but it has absolutely nothing to do with devolution, and neither is the inquisitorial Assembly that the right hon. Gentleman mentioned today, if only to dismiss it. We did not have that excess of frankness during the referendum campaign or the General Election campaign. Only in recent weeks has the Conservative Party suddenly decided that even an inquisitorial Assembly is not a good idea for Scotland. I do not think that it is a good idea, either. The most recent election held on an inquisitorial Assembly—the European Assembly—demonstrated that there is not much enthusiasm among the electorate for that kind of Assembly.
If one wishes to have a genuine form of devolution for Scotland, and in particular to maintain the commitment to increase the power of decision-making in Scotland, we need something like the legislative Assembly provided for in the Scotland Act. I have no doubt that whatever the particular current of opinion—and that varies in Scotland on that issue as on others—there is a longstanding view in Scotland, reflected in the referendum result and during the general election campaign, that we should find better ways of governing Scotland. There is considerable aspiration in Scotland for more decisions to be made there.
It matters a great deal whether decisions are made democratically. I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman should make such a silly point. It makes a considerable difference whether decisions are made in Scotland by Scottish Members of Parliament elected to make them. That would be a considerable step towards democratic accountability. It would bring the Government closer to the people, and there is a strong view in Scotland that that should be done. That feeling will continue to exist whether the SNP is represented by 11 Members or two, or whether it is not represented in this House at all.
The starting point should be what is best for the government of Scotland. I believe that the proposals that the Government have put forward this afternoon make them guilty of great foolishness. They are setting aside an Act that was exhaustively discussed in this House. They are throwing it out with absolutely nothing to put in its place.
I suppose that the Government have finally committed an act of honesty—a spectacle that all of us should be privileged to witness as it happens very rarely with the Conservatives. They have said that they are against devolution and that they want to get rid of the Scotland Act. We want that Act to remain on the statute book, and to be the starting point of any discussions on the development of Scotland's government. That is why I ask my right hon. and hon. Friends to vote against the repeal today.
I am sure that the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Craigton (Mr. Millan) will be the first to agree that the Scotland Act was a central feature of the last Government's programme in the autumn of their time. He claimed that this was something that was right for Scotland. He still says this, even though only 33 per cent. of the Scottish electorate were prepared to support it. He still claims that the Act should be maintained because he thinks that it is right in principle. That is an honest and honourable view, but it contains a paradox.
We all know that the primary motivation of the previous Government in bringing forward the Scotland Bill was that they thought it would improve their political chances in Scotland. I think that it was Sir Winston Churchill who once remarked that nothing was more contemptible or humiliating than the sight of a politician on his knees with his ear to the ground. It is very clear that the result of the referendum, confirmed by the results of the general election, showed that there was no enthusiasm for devolution in Scotland.
After all, this was a very critical constitutional issue. Whichever view we take about devolution, the fact is that it was weighed by both its opponents and supporters on the basis of whether it would contribute to maintaining the unity of the Kingdom. Therefore, it was an important and decisive issue and there was certainly not anything like sufficient consensus of Scottish opinion in favour of devolution to indicate that it would contribute to the maintenance of unity of the Kingdom.
We came very close to the abyss. Had we gone ahead with the Act, it would have paved the way for the break-up of the United Kingdom as assuredly as there was a break-up with Ireland. Now, as we withdraw from the abyss and see how close we were to disaster, we must ask ourselves something which goes right to the roots of democratic government. How was it possible for the leadership of the Labour Party and some members of the leadership of the Conservative Party to think that devolution was what the Scottish people wanted? How did that come about? How were they under such an illusion? How was it that so many of our own Conservative Scottish Members, let alone those on the Labour Benches, believed that this was the case?
It just shows how cautious we must be in trying to form a judgment of opinion. I would like to pay tribute to those hon. Members on both sides who saw beyond the transitory waves of opinion and understood the basic principles of the British constitution. I pay tribute particularly to the Labour opponents of the Bill because theirs was a more difficult task. It is fairly easy to oppose one's party in Opposition—I know because I have often done it—but it is much more difficult to oppose one's party when it is in government because one threatens its credibility by doing so. I pay a special tribute to the hon. Members for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) and for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) for their part in this battle.
I should also like to pay tribute to those of my hon. Friends who belong to the Union flag group, who organised continued resistance to the Bill from beginning to end, and indeed before it was tabled. I refer particularly to my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Mr. Gardiner), who was "the organiser of victory" in this case. I also refer to Betty Harvie Anderson, who I am glad to see has been restored to us in another place. I pay tribute to all these people and to those Scottish Members whose views were unpopular at the time but who, in spite of the unpopularity, told us again and again that they were convinced that Scottish opinion was on their side. So it proved to be.
Together, we converted the Conservative leadership from a rather lukewarm support of devolution to wholehearted opposition. I do not say this in a spirit of "I told you so". I say it because we, who have served in this House for some time, and particularly the new Members, must realise that, however much we should approach problems in humility and modesty, we should also do so with a determination to support the principles for which we stand. This is a very important aspect for new Members to understand.
Of course, in all this there must be a measure of judgment and flexibility. Intervention in economics, support for the social market doctrine, support for comprehensive school
We are coming now to the all-party talks and I congratulate the Secretary of State on his remarks on that subject. Of course there is a minority in Scotland, and a much smaller one in Wales, which is still keen on devolution. However, we should let this issue receive a decent burial tonight. Let us be very careful before we allow ourselves in any way to resurrect it.
Let us not forget that Scottish, English and Welsh people have, over the past 250 years, been greatly mixed and merged. A look at the London telephone book shows that there are probably more Scots, or people of Scottish descent, living in London than the 5 million Scots who live in Scotland. The same is true of the Welsh who moved into the Black Country in the early part of the last century. So long as Britain was a going concern and prospering in the world there was no thought of devolution in Scotland and Wales. It has only been in very recent years—the years marked by our economic decline and our relative decline in influence and wealth in the world—that this development has arisen. The proper cure is in the regeneration of Britain as a whole. I pray and trust that this is what the Government will dedicate themselves to doing.
I do not wish to follow the remarks of the right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) in detail, because I find his reasoning somewhat tortuous. He appeared to suggest that the main reason why a great many people, including people in his own party, espoused the cause of devolution was that in some way they felt that this was the majority view in Scotland, which had to be responded to. But they were wrong in that view, the right hon. Gentleman deduced, because of subsequent events. Therefore, he thought that the brave hearts were those who held out against the idea of devolution—they were the people who were true to the cause.
That is indeed a strange argument. The right hon. Gentleman made no mention at all of Lord Home of the Hirsel, who, so far as I know, is still committed to a much more positive and clear-cut form of devolution than is contained in the Scotland Act. Surely within the Conservative Party at least the right hon. Gentleman will concede that a man of Lord Home's reputation—former Prime Minister and former leader of the Conservative Party—is not a man whose opinion should lightly be dismissed. Therefore, I found the right hon. Gentleman's contribution somewhat odd in that respect, in that from a position of always having been opposed to devolution he reached the conclusion that he still was. That was hardly original, and not a marvellous response to the situation in which we now find ourselves.
It is worth remembering three small points. The first is that a Royal Commission was set up composed of relatively uninvolved persons. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] By that I mean that they covered the range of political opinion. Therefore, one could regard them, as a collective body, as being relatively unbiased. That body found a clear need for a Scottish Parliament.
Secondly, we should remember that three of the parties in Scotland continue to support devolution. Thirdly, we should not forget, despite today's speech by the Secretary of State for Scotland, that it is not so long since the Conservative Party, on all possible occasions, was reminding us that it, too, was in favour of devolution. The right hon. Lady the Prime Minister—who was present in the House for a time and who heard the Secretary of State's speech—once said that she was passionately in favour of devolution. Indeed, I remember the right hon. Member for Lanarkshire, North (Mr. Smith) subsequently chiding the right hon. Lady on that score. It was not only the view of the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) in his Perth declaration; it was a view held by a great many senior people in the Conservative Party—a view that was frequently repeated. The Secretary of State cannot wriggle out of this. The former Secretary of State for Scotland—the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Craigton (Mr. Millan)—is entitled to complain that the revelations, if that is the appropriate word to use, made by the Secretary of State today should have been more clearly set out at the time of the referendum.
I wish now to refer to the referendum, because, as the Secretary of State said, it is as a result of that referendum that we are now discussing this matter. If we are to have all-party talks—I hope that we do, because I am in favour of them—we should realise the place that referendums have in our democratic dealings. The referendum is a democratic mechanism used by a number of countries, including Switzerland and the United States. But the system has been misused by this country.
The voices that demanded a referendum on Europe afterwards ignored the result. They then demanded the referendum for Scotland to give the decision constitutional validity. The hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan) wanted the question of separatism to be included in the referendum so that that matter could be dismissed for all time—as if a referendum ever dismisses anything for all time. Certainly the EEC referendum has not been regarded by opponents of the EEC as dismissing anything at all. I find that a rather strange argument, too.
The hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) inserted the 40 per cent. rule on the ground that this would give the matter some constitutional validity. He quoted the Danish constitution, which has such an item built into it.
The Danish constitution is greater in age.
In The Daily Telegraph—which I read by accident, because I could not find another newspaper—I find that Mr. Adam Ferguson, who, as a result of an obscenely undemocratic system of election is now a European Member of Parliament, had the cheek to pontificate about democracy and also referred to the 40 per cent. rule, in much the same terms as those used by the Secretary of State for Scotland.
The fact is that because of the 40 per cent. rule, an abstention was the equivalent of a "No" vote. That is a fact and is not a question for argument. I do not understand why the Secretary of State for Scotland kept going on about the matter as if it were something that he required to prove. If there is a requirement that one must reach a certain percentage of "Yes" votes in order to give something validity, if one abstains or votes "No", it makes no difference if one is part of the other 60 per cent. I fail to see why there is a need to go on arguing about this at length. It is a fact.
In case the hon. Gentleman did not pick up the point, may I tell him that the point was that those who were fighting the "Yes" campaign were making out that the result showed clearly that Scotland wished to have the Scotland Act? The hon. Gentleman now agrees with me that that was very far from being the case.
I never said that the result of the referendum showed clearly that people wanted the Scotland Act. It certainly did not. What it did was to produce a narrow "Yes" vote in a fairly apathetic referendum. But, clearly, many people in Scotland wanted change, and wanted change, I suggest, of a much more clear-cut character than the right hon. Gentleman is offering to the House today.
The right hon. Gentleman cannot dismiss those people. The point that I am making about the referendum is that none of the people who have argued for referendums on the Scottish Bill and the EEC showed any interest in inserting referendums as some part of our democratic system in any sort of organised way. That seems to me to be wrong. If one is anxious to find out what people think and to establish that decisions are made in a responsive way, surely one should look more deeply at the subject of referendums. None of the people who have been so anxious about democracy in the referendums have reacted against the present system and the injustices that certainly exist. In my opinion, they simply espoused referendums to get their own way. That is the worst reason for taking up that approach.
I emphasise this point because the Secretary of State said that if some sort of result was to come out of the all-party talks, there would have to be another referendum. Therefore, it is proper that we should look rather more carefully at the use of referendums. Why should we not use them as a genuine rather than a bogus method of consultation? The referendum on the Scotland Act was a bogus exercise from beginning to end. In the end it became a contest between the retiring Government and a burgeoning Opposition. It became a question whether the Government would get its business in the form of the Scotland Act. Indeed, the right hon. Lady the Prime Minister described the result as a triumph for Britain—one thing it certainly was not It was a clear indication that people in Scotland were very divided about what they wanted to do. It was a tragedy rather than a triumph.
The Secretary of State is looking puzzled. I can assure him that in the days to come he will look even more puzzled.
I am puzzled only because a few moments ago the hon. Gentleman proved to my satisfaction that he agreed that all those who did not vote were counted as "No" voters. He now seems to be denying the only conclusion that one can draw from that, namely, that all those who voted "No" and all those who did not vote can be taken as being against the Scotland Act.
I did not say anything of the sort, and the right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that I did not. I said that it was true that in examining the subject of the 40 per cent. straight up and down, if one did not vote or if one said "No", one was part of the 60 per cent. Therefore, the effect was to say "No".
To imagine that people have understood that is another matter entirely. The Secretary of State knows that well. He appears to be making the assumption that all those who abstained did so because they wanted to vote "No". That is quite unjustified. Equally, if a person voted "No", that does not mean that he was against devolution—for example, Lord Home of the Hirsel wanted a stronger sort of devolution.
The right hon. Member for Glasgow, Craigton (Mr. Millan) is justified in saying to the Secretary of State that many of the people of Scotland want a legislative Assembly of some sort and do not wish to be palmed off by the sort of inquisitorial Select Committee put forward by the right hon. Gentleman.
For my own self-respect, it is worth remarking that, although it is said continually that the talks were the bright brainwave of the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym), I recall clearly writing to the then Mr. Edward Short in November and December of 1974 suggesting such a course of action. In the first White Paper the talks were part of the Scottish Liberal Party evidence. However, it was not until two or three years later that the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire took up the matter. By that time, the attitude of the Conservative Party was clearly negative and it conceived its role in the talks as such.
The reason why the right hon. Member for Craigton did not respond to the suggestion of the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire was that it was clear that, by that time, there would be no positive input from the Conservative Party to the discussions. It was interested only in entering the discussions as another delaying tactic to prevent the Scotland Act reaching the statute book. If that is the basis upon which the talks will start, what is the point of starting them? That is the depressing point about the motion.
Why should not the Scotland Act be on the agenda for our discussions? What harm would that do? It would, at least, provide a clear starting point. Although I supported the Scotland Act, I am critical of certain elements within it. However, I felt that it was better than nothing. I was prepared to follow a highly undemocratic voting system, to accept that it had no financial powers and to accept the economic restraints that existed.
It is all very well for the right hon. Member for Craigton to refer to the economic unity of the United Kingdom, but to have devolved, for example, the power of the Highlands and Islands Development Board—£8 million allocation per year—would not have cracked wide open the vain economic unity of the United Kingdom. The Labour Government were far too centralist in their approach. However, I am a federalist. I am not sure what a quasi-federalist is. The Secretary of State said that quasi-federalism was an option. What is quasi-federalism? I wish to see a more clearly defined Assembly, with more clearly defined powers. That is what federalism is about.
We are reopening—or concluding—the debate on Scotland at a time when there has been a further extension of the discussions on Europe. It is interesting to see the interaction between Scottish and European debates. The strongest opponents of any sort of Scottish nationalism or devolution are, at one and the same time, the strongest proponents of British nationalism.
If it were suggested to the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer), for example, that there was anything different about workers in Glasgow and workers in Liverpool, he would explode and say that their interests were identical. However, if the same proposition were put to him about the workers of the Ruhr and the French peasants he would say that they were different and that they were "foreigners". The hon. Gentleman criticises the Scottish National Party's oil programme, describing it as one of Scottish nationalist greed. Sharing British oil with "these foreigners", however, is a different matter altogether—a matter of principle and a matter of the nation and the nation is Britain and not Scotland.
If there is to be a genuine debate I hope that it will not be too long. The last debate about self-government for Scotland was too long-drawn-out. I hope that the matters to which I have referred will be faced firmly. Speaking from the Liberal Bench, I believe that there is a powerful and influential segment of Scottish opinion—possibly, a decisively influential segment—which believes that Scotland would be better governed and her people better served if she had a legislative Assembly within the unity of the United Kingdom. I still believe that that is the right solution to the problem and I hope that the Government will not close their minds to it on any ideological ground.
First, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I should like to thank you for calling me to make my maiden speech in the Scotland debate. I echo the other maiden speakers in thanking the Speaker and his colleagues for their courtesy and the Officers and staff of the House for their continuing kindness and assistance to new Members.
I have the honour to succeed Betty Harvie Anderson as Member for Renfrewshire, East. She was elected to the constituency in 1959 and she worked with immense vigour and considerable success for 20 years on behalf of her constituents. She also made a great contribution to British public life—especially to that of the House. Having been Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means and Deputy Speaker, she fills a unique position in parliamentary history as the first woman to sit in the Speaker's Chair. I am sure that all hon. Members warmly welcome the recent recognition of her services to the nation and to the House in her elevation to another place. We look forward to her continued vigorous participation in parliamentary affairs.
Renfrewshire, East is a constituency of considerable contrast and variety. Its western end contains a major car factory which is a leading example of multinational investment in Scotland. There are rural villages—Uplawmoor and Neil-ston—the residential community of Ralston, and the industrial centre of Barr-head, which depends strongly on a variety of small and medium-sized firms. The bulk of the electorate live in the Eastwood district. Many would argue that the district is one of the successes of local government reorganisation. It has the right balance between rural life and town services.
I moved voluntarily from the southeast of England to west central Scotland. That area often has a bad image, perhaps as a result of an earlier debate on the dispersal of civil servants' jobs to Scotland. However, within Renfrewshire, East there is a variety of housing and the quality of life is not exceeded anywhere else in the United Kingdom.
It is perhaps particularly appropriate that in his maiden speech Betty Harvie Anderson's successor should support the repeal of the Scotland Act, because no one could have worked to oppose the Act with greater vigour, determination and conviction than she.
We must now look ahead. First, can we learn any lessons from the failure of the Act to receive anything like the level of popular support that its proponents expected? I should like to make two points. First, the campaign for the Act suffered from a fatal flaw. The right hon. Member for Glasgow, Craigton (Mr. Millan) and his colleagues argued for the Act on, broadly speaking, two grounds—that it was a reasonable and sensible reform of government and that this sort of devolution would halt the move to independence.
The Scottish National Party argued with great conviction precisely the opposite. It argued that people should vote for the Act on the ground that it would be the first step to independence. In looking ahead, the first point that arises from the referendum debate is that we must always ask where any change will lead in the long term.
Secondly, I should like to refer to the role of the business community. Renfrewshire, East has a large number of business men and the business community was strongly opposed to the Scotland Act, a fact that was often not understood by supporters of the Act.
There was an amazing campaign during the referendum about who financed "Scotland Says 'No'". It was first suggested that the campaign was being financed by the English. At one point, even the CBI was accused of financing it—though that was clearly absurd. Next, we were told that faceless multinationals were financing the campaign, then it was alleged to be Dutch land speculators, and after that Arab land speculators. The only traditional bogeymen who were not mentioned as financing the campaign were the CIA and the South African secret service.
The fact is that the "Scotland Says 'No'" campaign was financed by Scottish business men, large and small, because of their grave concern about the implications of the Act for investment and jobs. In looking ahead, we must look to the effects of any changes on Scotland's wealth creators—the business community.
I do not support the simple status quo, but there are strong arguments for it. It commands at least substantial minority support in Scotland, as the opinion polls on the subject have indicated. It may be that the status quo has more support in Scotland than any other option. It is arguable that it has the support of perhaps more than 50 per cent. of those who vote Conservative as well as support in other parties.
The general election certainly showed no manifest desire in Scotland for radical change. Seven of my hon. Friends gained seats from the SNP. On the Labour side, the views of the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) on devolution were well known, and he increased his majority from about 2,000 to about 21,000. In addition, although we wish the all-party talks well, it may be that there will not be agreement between the parties. In that case, we shall retain the status quo.
My main point is that the onus of proof is on the advocates of change. It is argued that there are substantial imperfections in the government of Scotland, but evidence of imperfection is not, in itself, a justification for change. If we advocate a change we must prove that it would be a positive improvement.
We are justified in having change only if there is broad support for it. It would be pointless for the Government to present to the House a scheme that was opposed by the overwhelming majority of Opposition Members. We would be back playing the Scotland Act, with the parties reversed.
In conclusion, I thank hon. Members on both sides for hearing my first speech in the customary polite silence—more or less. In fully supporting Government policy, I suggest that we should proceed with care and caution. If there is to be change, we should proceed to it only on the basis of a much wider consensus of support, both inside and outside the House, than the Scotland Act ever received.
It is my privilege to speak after the maiden speech of the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, East (Mr. Stewart). We listened to him with our customary silence and appreciation. The House will have noted that the hon. Gentleman was non-controversial in the presentation of his remarks.
The hon. Gentleman spoke with great force and I am sure that we all look forward to hearing him on future occasions, particularly in his new role as a radical opponent of change, and to hearing his views about the way in which the Scottish business community can continue to resist the changes that the modern world is seeking to thrust upon it.
We are attending a funeral, a wake. If I had not had to refer to a maiden speech in my opening remarks, I might have said "Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to await the interment of the Scotland Act.". It will be interesting to see how the vote goes later. We shall probably find that a majority of Scottish Members are outnumbered by English Members. We shall have to wait and see. It is not certain how many Opposition Members will vote to prevent the repeal of the Act.
The referendum was not conducted according to the procedural standards common to Western democracies. There were no rules about the equal division of finance and there was a financial imbalance in the presentation of the campaign. When we deal with referendums in future it will be beholden upon the House to lay down rules to govern fairness in these matters. At some time or other, both sides could be affected by the manner in which campaigns can be conducted. We know that money counts in the formation of opinion.
No leaflet was put out during the referendum campaign. I criticise the previous Government for that. I found that despite all our debates many people did not seem to know what devolution was all about, and what were the proposed functions and powers of the Scottish Assembly. We also had the 40 per cent. rule, about which I shall be making further comments.
There is no excuse for the flawed nature of the Scotland Act in view of the hundreds of secondary legislatures that could have been used as examples. We spent hours in the House trying to promote amendments to the Act which might have improved it. We raised the questions of industrial powers, proportional representation, the definition of powers between Westminster and the Assembly, and so on. I am convinced that we did not come up with an example that was capable of being easily presented to the Scottish public. That was a flaw in the presentation of the Act.
Debates in Parliament showed that hon. Members and. I suspect, civil servants, particularly those in the Treasury, through their failure to produce a scheme for the financing of the Assembly by direct means, had not the remotest intention of producing a scheme that would be attractive to Scottish electors in the referendum.
My criticism of the Government is that they are proceeding with the destruction of an Act that could have formed a basis for further discussion. There is no hurry to remove it from the legislative process. A new Government are in power and I suppose that they are entitled to argue that improvements could be made in the scheme for devolution—if they had believed in devolution. They could Have used the Act as the agenda for the talks that they were proposing.
The proposal, which took two or three years to push through, against stubborn resistance in the House, will be dismantled crudely by a simple vote tonight. We shall be left with nothing except the vague talks suggested by the Government. That is wrong. It is political folly. If the Government present their own proposals for a future form of devolution for Scotland they will run into opposition from other parts of the House, on the ground that it is a Tory measure and should not command the support of the Labour movement.
I hope that when the hon. Member has been in the House a little longer he will realise that such an approach is naive. He is now in the political arena. He must learn that although it is possible and desirable for compromises to be reached when there is a fundamental agreement of purpose, it is impossible to reach all-party agreement when the Government do not intend to propose anything that is material or vital.
Broadly speaking, the Scotland Act, which was introduced by the Labour Government, was supported by the Liberals and the Scottish National Party. It was opposed by the Conservative Party. The Government propose to obliterate the agreement between the majority of the parties in Scotland. That will cause the Government problems.
They did. We had every intention of giving our support to pushing through the Scotland Act and the implementation order had the Government intended to take action. But they were split. Between 40 and 100 Labour Members were opposed to the Scotland Act. They were prepared to bring down their own Government. It would have been simple for the Prime Minister to fix a date on which the order would be dealt with and say that there would be a three-line Whip, knowing that he would have the support of the Liberals and the two national parties. They would have, been successful. However, Labour Members were prepared to torpedo their own Government rather than support an Assembly, on the principle of which they fought the election.
I turn to the question of the 40 per cent. vote. The Scotland Act provided for no real transfer of sovereignty. In no way did it represent a major constitutional change, because sovereignty was to remain with the House of Commons. The 40 per cent. barrier, which was completely unknown in British constitutional history, had to be imported to stop any real form of devolution.
During the Report stage the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Cook) proposed that there should be a 33 per cent. barrier. That 33 per cent. barrier was reached in the referendum. It was wrong to import the 40 per cent. barrier when such a barrier was not involved in the Northern Ireland referendum or in the referendums held on the EEC and Gibraltar. That shows how the House is, on occasions, prepared to load everything against the attainment of any form of self-government for Scotland.
If that is the standard that the hon. and learned Gentleman applies in his prosecutions he will run into difficulty. In an advisory referendum, if the figure was 32·8 per cent. surely the House would have voted for it. If it had not, all hon. Members would have deserved to be incarcerated in an asylum for their lunatic attitude to politics. I am surprised that the Solicitor-General for Scotland has departed from his usual standards of argument. Others feel that the depths of the Solicitor-General for Scotland have not yet been plumbed.
The 40 per cent. rule was a gross abuse of parliamentary authority and an attempt to subvert the democratic process in favour of sectional interests. It was a fundamental innovation because it was passed by 166 votes to 151 in a half empty House. It was supported by about 27 per cent. of hon. Members.
As the Secretary of State said, a substantial proportion of people in Scotland—51·6 per cent.—voted "Yes" in the referendum. By any standards that is a majority which should at least have caused the Government to pause rather than to rush ahead with their rash and reckless repeal of the Scotland Act.
It may have been a shock for the supporters but it was a victory for the "Yes" vote. I am willing to have talks about improvements to the Scotland Act if that is the price of maintaining it. However, the Government are ignoring a popular majority when they themselves do not command the support of the majority of electors in Scotland.
That does not relate to referendums that should be decided on a simple majority. A referendum, when all the people are consulted, is different from a body deciding to change its constitution. In certain constitutions a choice is given of the methods deployed for that purpose.
It is clear from the referendum result that the principle of devolution or limited self-government has been agreed by the Scottish people.
We may well have many arguments over the content of the Act—whether it can be improved, or goes too far, for example—but it is clear that the principle of limited self-government was agreed in the referendum and that the Act could prove a workable transition to something which, one would hope, could reach greater all-party agreement on the lines that the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. McQuarrie) is proposing. The Scottish National Party believes that that should be the basis of talks. But in what the Secretary of State has said I cannot see much ground for talks on the very limited agenda of Select Committees, and so on. He will have to produce some decent proposals for considerations to impress on us and others that the Government are genuinely committed to self-government or devolution.
This issue is obviously in a state of exhaustion on the political scene, but those of us who have been in political life long enough know that although the tide goes out it also comes in again. It may be that as the years go by the Government, now prepared to dismiss the Act as completely beneath their contempt, will find that the issue has been revived and is gathering strength and support. It will not take much to achieve that situation if the Government pursue the anti-Scottish Budget that they have produced, wrecking the Scottish economy in the way that Harold Macmillan and the Tories did in the 1950s, when they have failed to react to the change taking place in Scotland, and when the 44 Scottish Labour Members of Parliament are unable to withstand the changes now being made. The people of Scotland in that situation, will come to think that if they cannot rely on the democratic processes at Westminster to defend Scottish interests, those interests will be better taken care of within Scotland.
I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for this opportunity to catch your eye because, although I had no wish to plunge in with my maiden speech whilst still flushed from the hustings, equally I have no wish to be left on the shelf.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrewshire, East (Mr. Stewart) on the quality of his maiden speech, and express my warm appreciation of the advice I have had both from hon. Members and from the officers of the House as I take my first faltering steps here.
I have the honour to represent the electors of Galloway, that most beautiful corner of South-West Scotland, with its rolling farm land, its sparkling waters, its hills and forests. It embraces two counties and the hearts of all who visit it. Indeed, with the holiday season approaching, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if you should find yourself at a loss—something I find hard to envisage—you could not do better than seek solace from the cares of your high office amid the villages and byways of bonny Galloway.
During the last Parliament, Galloway was represented by Mr. George Thompson, whose assiduous work on behalf of individual constituents and whose tireless attention to the problems of Galloway have set me a fine example that it will be hard to follow, but I will do my best. Before that, for many years, Galloway was represented by Mr. John Brewis, who did much good and enduring work both for Galloway and for the cause of Europe. It is good to find that both men are still so well remembered and well regarded in this place.
Galloway has many problems with which I shall not hesitate to burden the House on other occasions, although I venture to hope that some of them may soon begin to reduce in intensity as a result of the nation's decision on 3 May and the initiatives taken since then. My reason for seeking to intervene in this debate, however, arises from an earlier decision taken by the electorate of Scotland on 1 March, in particular by the electors of Dumfries and Galloway region, which comprises my own constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Mr. Monro), now the Minister with responsibility for sport.
Dumfries and Galloway voted "No" in the referendum and did so overwhelmingly. On a 64 per cent. turnout, almost 50 per cent. more voters voted "No" than supported the implementation of the Scotland Act. I believe that one at least of the reasons for that was the fear that Galloway's interests could not be properly represented in an Assembly such as was proposed, in the face of the total domination of that Assembly by the central urban belt of Scotland. Indeed, the neighbouring Borders region, whose "No" majority was in identical proportion to that of Dumfries and Galloway, probably felt the same, for the seven large counties which comprise the south of Scotland would have had only seven Assembly men to contend with almost one hundred from the narrow industrial belt of the centre. Certainly, the voters of Galloway felt that they would have been still more remote from that Assembly in Edinburgh than ever they were from Westminster.
As I seek to be non-controversial in my maiden speech, I shall try to restrict myself to the facts in this debate and leave to others such issues as the 40 per cent. rule, the bias of the constituency membership basis in favour of the Labour Party, the 5 to 1 imbalance of broadcasts proposed for the campaign, and the orchestrated campaign by the "Yes" side to exhort "No" supporters to abstain—surely a curious posture for those who honour democracy but one the logical consequences of which have rebounded conclusively on its perpetrators. I leave these contentious issues to others.
I cannot, however, refrain from the comment that the recent plea by the Leader of the Opposition, echoed today by the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Craigton (Mr. Millan), to the effect that "Look, could we not talk about this?"—surely the heart cry of the vanquished through the ages—might have carried more weight if he had made it before the Scotland Bill was enacted, as my right hon. and hon. Friends constantly urged, instead of afterwards, when the Scottish electorate had demonstrated their lack of support for the Act. Instead, the Bill was pushed through on party lines, with no attempt to achieve broad agreement, and with a guillotine to stifle debate so that three-quarters of its clauses and schedules went undebated. Surely that is not a sound basis for a major constitutional change.
But if that fact did not strike the promoters of the Bill, one might have hoped that the nature of the support they received for their measure would have given them pause, for the Bill's most persistent protagonists were not in the ranks of the Labour Party but in the ranks of the Scottish National Party, a party committed not to the devolution which the Leader of the Opposition said would strengthen the unity of the United Kingdom but to separation, which is in complete opposite, and to the break-up of the United Kingdom.
Evidently it did not occur to the Labour Government that receiving support for this measure from the SNP was rather like getting the advice of a fox on the design and construction of a hen run. Indeed, one of the more bizarre aspects of the referendum campaign was the way in which the SNP so proudly claimed the credit for all the fuss that was being made over the government of Scotland. It did not seem to occur to it that that was rather like a mosquito claiming credit for the invention of DDT.
Much was made during the passage of the Bill, and in the subsequent referendum campaign, of the extra layer of government, the additional bureaucracy, the extra cost, the arbitrary division of powers, the potential for conflict with Westminster, the expectations in the industrial and economic fields which would be raised but which could not be fulfilled, the dangers inherent in the funding arrangements and the consequent threat to local rates, and the weakening of Scotland's voice and possibly her number of representatives here. I am sure that all these arguments were valid and important, but to my mind the single overriding reason for repealing the Act now is that it is inherently flawed.
The Act has a constitutional instability that runs right through it and jeopardises the future integrity not only of the Assembly it proposes but also of this House and this Parliament. It is not rooted in the rich soil of constitutional devolution, in which overwhelming need blends with gradualism to produce sound organic growth, but rather it is spawned on the stony ground of expediency: conceived in panic, by opportunism out of appeasement—not the sort of pedigree of which this, the mother of Parliaments, could be proud.
The basic and irredeemable flaw was that it would have created in this House two classes of MP. Surely it has for centuries been a cardinal tenet of our British democracy that as Members of this House we are all equal. Clearly, we occupy varying roles, and some of us are from time to time more equal than others; some are in government, some are in opposition; some hold office, some hold hopes of office; and some are in minority parties. All of us are hon. Members. Some hon. Members are also right, as well as honourable. Some right hon. Members are often downright wrong. I hope that that is not controversial. As Members of Parliament we all enjoy essentially equal rights and obligations and we all have a vote.
Yet that is the basic principle that the Act would erode. The Scotland Act 1978 would create an Assembly in Edinburgh that would have, in effect, a separate Scottish Government with a separate first Minister and Executive. In this House we would have a situation in which the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom would also be the Prime Minister of England, but not of Scotland. We would have a situation in which this Parliament was also the Parliament of England but not of Scotland. English hon. Members sitting in this House could speak and vote on many matters affecting England but not Scotland. Scottish hon. Members sitting in this House could speak on many matters affecting England but not Scotland. When standing for re-election in our Scottish constituencies we could promise to fight, and vote, for better housing, better hospitals and better schools for England but not for Scotland.
In short, the situation created by the Act would be untenable. Its central thrust strikes at the heart of the British parliamentary system. It undermines this House and it does Scotland no good. It has been discredited and rejected. It cannot be reformed and it should now be struck from the statute book.
That, of course, is not the end of the matter, and I was relieved to hear the constructive tone of the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on the question of all-party talks and what might flow from them.
There is, undoubtedly, a deep-rooted feeling that further change and improvement in the way we run our affairs are now needed. That feeling is perhaps vague and inarticulate, but that the mood is there is undeniable. We politicians in part created it and now we must respond to it. It is, in my view, entirely right that it is the Conservative Party that should give the lead in this for we are, and always have been, the natural party of devolution and of the diffusion of power away from the centre.
That philosophy was, for example, made manifest in financial and economic terms in the recent proposals announced by my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. So, too, in the constitutional field our record over many decades is unrivalled and unimpeachable. It is as true to our Conservative philosophy as it is to the needs of the time for us now to seek a further measure of devolution in the face of evergrowing size, complexity and centralisation, all of which are the natural allies of Socialism.
The next step must not only conform to the real needs of the situation as opposed to imagined needs. It must, I submit, also pay heed to our belief in the merits of gradualism and continuity, and to our overriding commitment to preserve the integrity of this place and of the United Kingdom. In that context, and against the background of the report of the Select Committee on Procedure which is to be debated shortly in the House, it seems to me that nothing could be more appropriate or timely than to set up now, alongside the other Select Committees that are being proposed, a Select Committee on Scottish Affairs. It fits hand in glove with the general thinking of the House in other spheres and I believe that it would gain widespread acceptance.
Such a Committee sitting in Edinburgh—where I feel sure accommodation could be found—to scrutinise all aspects of Scottish administration, to check expenditure, to call to account the nationalised industries and to help to draft Scottish legislation, would not only reassure the Scottish people that their government was being carried out fastidiously, but, more importantly, it would avoid as a devolutionary measure the pitfalls of the Scotland Act 1978. It would stem from, and remain firmly rooted in, this House.
I have detained the House too long, and if I have dipped my toe into the waters of controversy I hope that I shall be forgiven on the ground of strongly held convictions. In closing I stress that the clearing away of the debris of the Scotland Act 1978 is not an end of the matter but is the essential prerequisite to seeking a real lasting improvement in the quality and nature of Scotland's government, within the framework of a strengthened and reinvigorated United Kingdom. I believe that in overwhelmingly rejecting the Scotland Act and in sending me to this House, that is what the electorate of Galloway wanted. They reasserted Galloway's commitment to the United Kingdom. Our task now is to ensure that the United Kingdom goes forward economically, socially and constitutionally as one nation.
My first task is to congratulate the hon. Member for Galloway (Mr. Lang) on his maiden speech. He said that he did not wish to be controversial, but I must say that he got more than his toe in the water during his remarks. Indeed, he was splashing about knee deep on occasions as he discussed the genesis and the motivation of the Labour Government's Scotland Act. He lay himself open to being accused of having a sense of humour when he referred to the Conservative Party as "the natural party of devolution". I am sure that he did not mean to be humorous, and I am sure that we look forward to his struggles and endeavours on the Back Benches to bring about some practical result for this admirable inclination which he detects in Conservative philosophy. I look forward to hearing him speak on many occasions in this House, and I congratulate him on the civilised, extremely moderate and effective way in which he presented his case.
We have had two maiden speeches from Scottish Members, because we also had the maiden speech of the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, East (Mr. Stewart). In my short career in Scottish politics, new Conservative Members are something of a rarity. They do not happen very often. I suppose that the novelty value of that itself is to be welcomed. It is, perhaps, a little ironic that both hon. Members should have decided to make their maiden speeches on an occasion described by one of the elder statesmen of their party, the right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) as "a decent burial" I accept that it is a decent burial because I, and everyone who is speaking in this debate, know that there is no way in which we can stop the Scotland Act 1978 from being repealed. The Conservatives have a clear majority in this House, and the Act will go. All we can do is to enter our protest—and I intend to do that briefly—and give notice of our intention to try and put the matter right on a future occasion.
It is a sad business because the Act was the result of a lengthy period of struggle and argument of a very indecisive and inconclusive kind. My sorrow that it has come to this, at least temporarily, is shared by a number of hon. Members who sit on the Conservative Front Bench. I think that the Secretary of State for Scotland is well known as having been a secret supporter of devolution for some time. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind), who is to reply to this debate, actually came out from the undergrowth towards the end of the devolution campaign. There was a rustling in the bushes of Scottish politics and the hon. Member for Pentlands emerged, somewhat dishevelled and shamefaced but at least, at the end of the day, on the right side of the argument to proclaim that he would vote "Yes" and that he hoped that his right hon. and hon. Friends would do the same. I mean this in no sarcastic way, but I look forward with interest to hearing the hon. Member for Pentlands explaining how he can justify replying for a Government who intend to remove, even as a basis for discussion, the Scotland Act 1978 from the statute book.
To complete the fifth columnists on the Government Front Bench, we had the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. Fairgrieve)—he is not with us at the moment though he has been sitting in on the debate—who was chairman of the Scottish Conservative Party. He had to put his private office to a great deal of trouble issuing press statements denying that, in a moment of aberration, he had told the Sunday Mail that he intended to vote "Yes" as well because he believed in devolution.
If I approach this debate with a degree of sorrow it is nothing compared to the private agony and grief which I am sure is welling up in the breasts of a number of Scottish hon. Members and Ministers. Having said that, I cannot complain that we have been unable to implement the Scotland Act 1978. In a sense that was inevitable given the result of the referendum. I was one of those—and I make no bones about it—who told this House that I thought that there was a clear consensus in Scotland that there would be very decisive support for the Act. I approached the referendum, quite honestly, in a spirit of some confidence based on my own opinion and that of the opinion polls.
I got it wrong. For some reason, suddenly we reached the stage where on I March 1979 there was not that clear consensus. In that sense, I can quote a headline from a Scottish paper which had campaigned extremely hard for a "Yes" vote,
Enough as it turned out was not enough.
We were stuck with that situation. It was not, I say to the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson), and never was to my mind, a question of the 40 per cent. One can go in for mathematical semantics and linguistic niceties as much as one likes in this debate to argue what the result meant in terms of the 40 per cent. rule. But I was determined, and I think that this House would have been determined in an advisory referendum, that the 40 per cent. was not of itself decisive. After all, it was advisory, and we could easily have gone ahead, if there had been a clear gap between the "Yeses" and the "Noes" of the popular vote. The difficulty for me and the then Government was that it was almost a dead heat. If it had been 33 per cent. "Yes" and 23 per cent. "No.", I would have been for going ahead bald-headed and to hell with the consequences. But the popular vote was very small.
Of course one is enough if one is filling an office—electing a municipal rat-catcher or the leader of the Conservative Party—because the post must be filled. But clearly, if an advisory referendum is indecisive, the matter is thrown back on the judgment of those who have to cast the votes. There was no clear message from Scotland.
It is not in this House that we have to win the battle of devolution within the next three or four years. It is in the battle for public opinion in Scotland that people like me, who continue to hope that we shall move forward, must argue the case. It is not helpful to attack those who take a different view. It is counter-productive to talk of traitors to the cause and of people reneging on their commitments. We must continue to argue a positive case in terms of better government for Scotland. I do not believe that the issue is dead or that it should be dead.
The Labour Party has a duty to continue this argument. We cannot do much in terms of legislation before we form a Government—I do not believe in an illusory consensus emerging from all-party talks—but when we do, if we have consistently continued to argue the case, we shall be able to stand by our principles and implement it.
We must maintain our faith in the cause of devolution—first, because there was a "Yes" vote. As I said, it was indecisive—not the one for which I had hoped—but a majority of those voting voted "Yes". Despite the extraordinary statement of the right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion that the general election result confirmed the anti-devolution consensus, in fact it showed a tremendous victory for the Labour Party north of the Border.
The Labour Party—I and almost all my colleagues—fought that elections on the devolution ticket. No doubt, as I say that, everyone is looking at my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell), who had a splendid result in his constituency. I certainly would not try to bind him to my stance because he would be an unwilling captive. But over the whole campaign the Labour Party fought and won on a platform of devolution. That, combined with the narrow "Yes" vote, gives a respectable and popular basis for maintaining our attitudes.
One reason for our difficulty in the referendum—this was inevitable—is that we were tainted to some extent with guilt by association. I make no complaint of the fact that the right hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart), the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) and their hon. Friends campaigned for a "Yes" vote, but ordinary Labour voters in my area who instinctively favoured a "Yes" vote found it difficult to cast it because they had strange allies.
Every time a popular Scottish paper published pictures of well-known SNP personalities saying, "Book me my seat in the Assembly," all sorts of Labour voters were driven out of the "Yes" camp. Their reaction was not that they were opposed to devolution—they favoured it—but that they feared to vote for it because they might be seen as endorsing something totally different, which should have been seen as totally distinct.
If we failed in one thing in the referendum, it was not in the positive arguments for devolution; it was in getting it across to people not only that devolution had nothing to do with nationalism but that it was an effective and complete block to nationalism if it could succeed.
I do not think that it is a block to nationalism, but that is in passing. Does the hon. Gentleman not accept that many Labour voters came out in the referendum vote although the Labour Party organisation did not work in many parts of the country? That was true of my constituency. When I was knocking up an area in Linlathen on one occasion, only one Labour van went past, on a fleeting visit. Otherwise, there was no sign of Labour activity.
—but I cannot comment on that. The Labour Party campaigned well in many areas, although it was split. The Labour Party represents Scottish opinion, which itself is split, and it would be remarkable if it were not split as well. But we got a fair proportion of the Labour vote out. We did not do better because of the confusion with nationalism.
There is another reason why we should continue to argue the case for devolution This is not a nice argument about whether we have support, or how much we have or how we interpret recent electoral figures. At the end of the day, it is simply that we believe that it is right and that it is the best way of progressing to more effective government in Scotland. Devolution is right for Scotland and for the United Kingdom.
We are all familiar with many of the referendum arguments about more responsive government and democratic control. I do not want to rehearse them now at any length. However, one argument was not used as much as it should have been during the campaign for political reasons—because it is a difficult argument. But it has been heavily underlined by the result of the general election.
We now have a Government in Scotland who will initiate and control all legislation but who command only minority support from the Scottish electorate. If they stand by their principles—I do not doubt that they will—the Government will bring forward legislation to encourage pay beds in the NHS, the growth of grant-aided schools in Scotland and the selling of council houses. In all those areas they have no mandate from the Scottish people.
That may appear a dangerous argument, because it may be seen as an argument for the nationalist cause, but I introduce it because it has to be faced.
Surely that position with regard to Scotland in the present Parliament is exactly the position that existed with regard to England in the last? The Socialist Party could never have carried on in England if there had not been a united Kingdom and they had not had the support of a vast number of Socialists in Scotland.
That is one of the problems, and in Scottish terms devolution is an answer. Perhaps the biggest single argument for an Assembly is that it would directly reflect Scottish political opinion. We should not then have Tory domestic and social measures forced on us by a group of Conservative Members of Parliament who do not command majority support.
That is a dangerous assumption. What I am saying is an argument for devolution of power to a Scottish Assembly, not necessarily for nationalism or for breaking up the United Kingdom. If one does not use this argument, one is deliberately refusing to use one of the principal and obvious results of devolution—and one of the most important and beneficial results. I refuse to sit and watch a Conservative Party with a minority of Scottish electoral support doing things unacceptable to the Scottish position and neglect to argue that devolution would be an answer merely because I will be accused of using a nationalist argument. I am opposed to nationalism. I have no wish to join the nationalist camp. But there is a great argument in terms of Scottish domestic affairs for saying that those who control them, who initiate the legislation, should be directly responsible to and directly reflect Scottish political opinion.
If the hon. Gentleman takes the view that it is constitutionally abhorrent, on the basis—I imagine—of the nation State, that the Government of Great Britain should impose upon a part of that State Conservative philosophies when there is a minority of Conservative Members in that part, what is the constitutional right of a Government of Great Britain to impose Socialist philosophies on the other part of that nation State when they have only a minority in that part?
There is a clear distinction. For example, the argument might be advanced that exactly the same position applied at the moment in the North of England. In the North of England there is a Labour majority but people there are being ruled by Conservative Ministers. But in Scotland we have a distinct administrative system, we have a distinct legal framework, we have a tradition of administrative devolution, and therefore we have an answer to hand in terms of an Assembly within the framework of the United Kingdom.
If people in the North of England wanted a similar solution, I should be the first to say that the difficulty about federalism, about assemblies or about any other unit within the United Kingdom is that people who do not live in that area do not want it. My case is that in Scotland there is a demand for it, there is a case for it, and we ought to build upon that feeling to create more effective and more directly responsible government in Scotland.
But I repeat that that is not an argument for nationalism or for leaving the United Kingdom. It is merely an argument for making sure that in our internal domestic affairs in Scotland, which are already controlled by separate Scottish legislation, the legislature should reflect Scottish opinion. That is democratic, it is simple, it is uncomplicated, and it seems to me to be a very strong argument.
The hon. Gentleman keeps asserting that he is not a nationalist, yet he will not answer the question put to him. Between February and October 1974 the United Kingdom had a Labour Government although the majority of Members of Parliament in England were Conservative Members. Does the hon. Gentleman believe that the same argument applied during that time in respect of the imposition of Socialist policies in England as he is now pursuing in respect of Scotland?
I have already answered that. I have said that if I lived in those parts of the United Kingdom which suffered in the way the hon. Gentleman describes and I was worried about it, I should be arguing for the kind of devolutionary settlement in those areas which I am arguing for in respect of Scotland. In fact, people in those areas do not argue for it. That is their business. I am in Scotland. I have a problem. In his very person, the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands represents that problem in that his ideas on social issues are not mine. But they are the ones that will rule over the next three or four years in Scotland. The Assembly is an answer to that—a democratic answer—and that is why I stand by it.
I have allowed myself to be interrupted several times and I must now come to a conclusion. It seems to me that the bench mark against which one must test a devolutionary settlement or a proposal for devolution is the extent to which the Assembly, agency or body—whatever it is—reflects the wishes of the Scottish people. If we are to have proposals of the kind which seem to be emerging from what the Secretary of State said today, we shall have merely cosmetic tinkerings with the machinery of the present House of Commons, and at the end of the day the Select Committee, or the Scottish Grand Committee on safari—whatever it may be—will precisely reflect the composition of the House. At the end of the day, therefore, it cannot be said in any real sense to be a devolutionary initiative in the proper meaning of that term.
The great trouble is that in making proposals of that kind the Conservatives are getting the worst of both worlds. They are risking nowt and they are achieving nowt, and by going in for these cosmetic tinkerings they are keeping the issue of devolution squarely before the Scottish electorate without offering any real solutions.
In a way, I would rather that the Conservatives had the root and branch courage of their own reactionary convictions and said "We are the Unionists of this land, we are against any form of devolution, and we shall stand pat on that." The reason why they cannot do that is that, like the hon. Member for Galloway and so many presently on the Government Front Bench, they do not really believe in that position, so that their whole attempt and approach to this matter is an organised hypocrisy.
For my part, I believe that if we seriously approach the problems of devolution, we shall end, give or take a clause or two, with a piece of legislation which looks very like the Scotland Act. There is no escaping from that. So if we are to talk about devolution, we should start by talking about the Scotland Act and either advancing or detracting from that position. But to scrub it, to obliterate it from the statute book and put up some poor apology of minor constitutional changes in the present machinery of government as a substitute, seems to me to be the height of dishonesty.
I find it easier to argue for devolution at a time when nationalism is not an issue. I want to see devolution remain on the agenda, not just being revived at some future date because we may hereafter have a spluttery upsurge of the Scottish National Party on a protest vote. I believe that in those circumstances it is dangerous to argue for devolution. The case has nothing whatever to do with nationalism. It has a lot to do with the better government of the United Kingdom and the better government of Scotland within the United Kingdom. That is what the Scotland Act was about. That is what the Labour Party, I hope and believe, will continue to fight on, and it is a stand which I certainly, within that party, will continue to maintain.
I do not think that I have ever heard a Member talk such unmitigated nonsense as we have just heard from the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar). His speech amounted to an argument for the disintegration not just of Britain but of Scotland, too, for the results of the referendum vote show that until Strathclyde was brought in there was a majority in Scotland against devolution. Therefore, the hon. Gentleman's argument is an argument for the disintegration of both. As my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General for Scotland put to him, the effect of his argument is that what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.
However, I do not wish to be dragged away from my main purpose, for I want at the outset to congratulate the Government on tabling the order so soon and thus, at an early stage, implementing another of their valuable and sensible election pledges. Moreover, I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on so ably moving the motion, which, if carried—I am glad that everyone thinks that it will be—will be of the first importance to the welfare of Scotland.
For far too long it has been assumed that Scotland's ills would be cured by constitutional changes. In my opinion, nothing could be further from the truth. I am sorry to say that it was the then Leader of my party, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath), who started the rot with his ill-considered declaration at Perth. It did not take long for the Government at that time, now in opposition, to jump on the bandwagon and appoint the Crowther Commission, later the Kilbrandon Commission.
We thus had the ridiculous spectacle of the two main parties in the House, both Unionist at heart, falling over each other in their efforts to bring about constitutional changes which could only undermine the Union and which nobody wanted, except the nationalists and, for some strange reason, most of the media. I can only suppose that the latter took that line because they thought that an Assembly would be useful to fill up space if there were not enough of the usual diet of sex and scandal to go round.
Right from the start, I have been totally opposed to the whole idea of an Assembly, because of its disruptive tendencies. I told my right hon. Friend the Member for Sidcup that he was playing with fire when he started on that road and that he would be much better advised to follow the example of Sir Winston Churchill when, after the war, there was one of the periodic outbreaks of nationalism which always seem to come when we have a Socialist Government.
On that occasion, as I well remember—I think that I am the only Scottish Member now in the House who has personal experience of that time—Sir Winston sat tight and did nothing, and the whole matter blew over.
When, a generation later, nationalism manifested itself, once more both parties vied with each other in offering more and more of what the nationalists wanted. That was complete madness and I hope that in another generation or so, if, as seems likely from experience, there is another outbreak of this disease, the House will recollect what happened this time. We all know that it has been a long and painful task stopping the Gadarene rush to destruction, which at one time seemed likely to engulf us all.
After the vote tonight I hope that we shall be able to say that we have changed course, and have put the danger behind us.
I am quite willing to wait and see. There is no need to go back as far as Mr. Asquith.
Constitutional change is not what Scotland needs. The problems of Glasgow, as the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden will be well aware, are much the same as those of Liverpool and Newcastle, both of which are shipbuilding areas. The problems will be solved only by this Parliament. They will not be solved by a local assembly in Edinburgh which will be less concerned with solving the problems than in using the problems as a vehicle for increasing its power.
The problems that worry Scotsmen are not constitutional inadequacies. We must get that into our heads. Constitutional inadequacies do not exist in Scotland. The worries of Scotsmen are practical matters, such as the shocking inadequacy of British Rail inter-city services in Scotland compared with those in England. Even more important to Scotsmen is the distribution of good top jobs. I hope that the rumours that I hear about the softening of the Government's determination to move the Ministry of Defence to Glasgow are ill-founded. Nothing will do the Government's standing in Scotland more harm.
Scotland needs not constitutional devolution but devolution of top decision-making jobs. That is a policy that applies to not only Scotland but the whole of the United Kingdom.
The right hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) has a perfect opportunity to make a speech if that is what he wants. He is a Privy Councillor and should rise and make his speech. I wish he would stop interrupting me from a sedentary position.
It is utterly ridiculous that, like the right hon. Member for Western Isles, in a small country such as ours a man can get to the top of a tree, only by moving to London. The right hon. Gentleman has become a Privy Councillor by doing exactly that.
I hope that when the Minister replies he will be able to say a word of encouragement on that aspect of devolution. I shall be listening to what he says on that matter.
Having killed the ill-conceived Scotland Act by this motion, the Secretary of State will not, I hope, feel obliged to find a parliamentary use for the now redundant Royal High School by arranging for the Scottish Grand Committee to meet there on occasions, as he seemed to suggest this afternoon. The Scottish Grand Committee, as we all know, is an integral part of Parliament. If its members are to work effectively, they must operate, as we are concerned not only with the Scottish Office, in close proximity with other Ministers in other Departments. I believe that the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Craigton (Mr. Millan) more or less hinted that he felt the same way.
If we exclude the spirit of envy caused by the temporary belief in the bonanza of so-called Scottish oil, which has now vanished, much of the trouble in the past was due to the public's lack of knowledge of how government works.
Few Scots people realise that nine-tenths of what affects them in their daily lives is administered by Scotsmen in Scotland. Even fewer realise that through the Scottish Grand Committee we have a mini-Parliament within the main Parliament where Ministers are questioned and legislation is subjected to close scrutiny. I do not believe that a better way exists of producing diversity for one part of Britain without imperilling the unity of the whole country than this system.
Public knowledge could be improved by some modest changes—for example, by having Scottish Questions for a quarter of an hour once a week instead of an hour once a month.
I do not know what is amusing the hon. Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan). Perhaps I should appear on the stage. I should make more money doing that.
These matters should be taken seriously. It would help the image of Scottish Members of Parliament if we had Scottish Questions for a quarter of an hour once a week. That would lead to greater topicality. It would be easier for the media to report on the happenings in Parliament that affect Scotland.
It is the height of lunacy to bunch the Estimate debates together in July when most people are on holiday. In present circumstances it is no wonder that the man in the street feels that Scotland is neglected parliamentarily.
I am sorry if I appear to be putting myself forward as the person who knows everything about everything. As the only Member of Parliament who has served in a United Kingdom Department and an English Department as well as the Scottish Office, I believe that there is a much closer contact between Scottish Members of Parliament and Ministers and a closer scrutiny of what is happening in Scotland in this place than elsewhere. Instead of bunching Estimates in July, why not spread them regularly throughout the year in the manner of the Supply debates?
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland Las begun well what I hope will be a long term in office for him. By killing the Act, he has aimed a blow at the disruptive forces of nationalism. Let him continue the good work.
My hon. Friend the Member for Galloway (Mr. Lang) asked about the future. He is more revolutionary than I am. I ask my hon. Friend to let the Secretary of State continue the work he is doing with a few simple adjustments to the procedure. Let us see how we progress. Let him have nothing to do with great radical changes, such as we are burying tonight, whose outcome nobody can foresee and from which we are fortunately about to escape. Let him shut the Royal High School in Edinburgh, at least for political activity, and let him open the Ministry of Defence in Glasgow. In that way the work that the Secretary of State has begun today will prosper. That will bring benefit to Scotland. That will strengthen the bonds of unity throughout Britain.
I listened in some amazement to the knock-about speech delivered by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galbraith).
The Minister was writhing and wriggling in his seat. I realise that the hon. Member for Hillhead represents the true voice of Unionism that is now reasserting itself, perhaps to the disquiet of the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind). As my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) said earlier, the hon. Gentleman's heart really lies somewhere else.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Galloway (Mr. Lang) on his excellent maiden speech. He represents a neighbouring constituency. I also congratulate the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, East (Mr. Stewart) on his maiden speech.
I should like to have thanked the right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) for his keen but unexpected interest in a debate on Scottish devolution. However, I regret that he has not been sufficiently keen and enthusiastic to stay for the remainder of this interesting debate.
I agreed with the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson), who said that today was a sad day for Scotland. It means not just the repeal of the Scotland Act but the annihilation of any hope of devolution for Scotland for years to come.
The Scotland Act is unique, or at least unusual. I am open to correction. It had built into it a self-destruct clause. My hon. Friend the Member for Garscadden said that the referendum was close-run. I accept that. If it had not been for the isolation of the self-destruct clause in the Scotland Act, we should not be discussing the repeal of the Act. It is important to realise that the inclusion of that clause resulted in this debate.
I would not arrogate to myself the responsibility of predicting what the Scottish electorate might have done.
I suggest that the inclusion of this clause resulted in our presence here today. I did not make any prediction or judgment about what the result would have been with or without the inclusion of this clause. It was an unusual parliamentary device.
I do not think anyone will deny that a majority of those who bothered to vote, voted in favour. There was a clear majority.
If the Under-Secretary of State will consider the size of his own majority and that of his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Mr. Fairbairn) in the previous Parliament, he will understand that his majority was enough for him to represent the interests of his constituents and to participate in the voting on the Scotland Act. I do not think that that argument may be used against the majority who voted in the Scotland Act referendum.
I concede that organisationally the referendum did not go well. The campaign on all sides was not good. Perhaps the "Yes" side did not possess the same resources as were possessed by the "No" side. Perhaps the previous Government were wrong in not putting more resources into the campaign. If there had been a clear campaign, with resources on both sides, and with the arguments put clearly, more people would have participated in the referendum. There would have been a more decisive result.
I agree that many people did not vote in favour in the Scotland Act referendum because they felt it was the first step on the slippery slope towards total separation and the nationalist case.
If we had accepted the advice of my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan)—who said that a second question should have been included in the referendum—that would have clarified the issue. There would have been a much more enthusiastic debate. There would have been a much clearer division of views between those of the right hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. Stewart), of my colleagues in the Labour Party and of those who argued in favour of a "No" vote. There would have been much greater enthusiasm amongst the electorate. The issues would have been clearer. The previous Government made a mistake in not accepting the inclusion of a second question in the referendum.
We should not forget why Parliament spent nearly two years discussing devolution of power to Scotland. First, there is difficulty in getting Scottish legislation through Westminster and in obtaining time for the discussion of such legislation. Secondly, there is clearly a need for a forum for the discussion of purely Scottish issues. Thirdly, there is an important need for a democratic scrutiny of the Scottish Office. That is not a new feeling. The views expressed when the Scotland Act was discussed were not new.
At the end of the First World War there was a cry for all-round devolution, not primarily on nationalistic grounds, but to ease congestion at Westminster, all those years ago, and to facilitate the control or supervision of the Administration by the legislature. It is now much more important to ease congestion at Westminster, where there is much more legislation than there was 50 years ago. It is now much more important for the legislature to control and supervise the Administration, as the Administration is now so large.
The hon. Gentleman represents me in Parliament. However, he does not represent me in anything else. His views are different from mine. He seems to have failed to grasp that the procedure of this House has changed even in the time that I have been here. There used to be the Scottish Grand Committee. There are the Standing Committees and the Scottish Grand Committee now. I am not sure that the Scottish Grand Committee existed at the time mentioned by the hon. Gentleman. All those bodies provide ways of helping legislation through Parliament.
I always appreciate advice from my constituents—not least from the hon. Gentleman.
In their short period of office the Government have put forward a great deal of legislation. Why should Parliament be tied up with the detailed discussion of the Bail etc. (Scotland) Bill and all that that means? More detailed and thoughtful consideration would have been given to the matter if there had been an Assembly. I cannot see great enthusiasm among many Members of Parliament for this debate.
Professor Gordon Donaldson also saw the Assembly as a discussion forum in Scotland to deal with Scottish issues. It was said that issues in Scotland were different and required separate discussion. I refer to law, education and local government. Those subjects are different in Scotland. They require separate discussion. Parliament has not been able to discuss major Scottish educational issues. We have had neither the opportunity nor the machinery to discuss the Munn and Dunning reports. A forum for the discussion of Scottish issues would have existed if we had had a Scottish Assembly.
I accept that correction. It may be thought that I am rehashing the old arguments that were discussed at the time the Scotland Bill became an Act. If so, I apologise. However, in doing so I am arguing very strongly against the repeal of this Act. The arguments put forward over the last two years are equally as strong today and must be considered when discussing the repeal of the Act.
We must also accept the political realities of this Parliament. The Conservative lemmings will follow their leader. The hon. Member for Pentlands will, irrespective of what he said during the election campaign, vote for the repeal of this Act. The hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns (Mr. Buchanan-Smith), irrespective of what he said in the general election campaign, will vote for the repeal of this Act. This is regrettable.
At the risk again of being corrected and of its appearing inopportune for a new Member to caution other new Members, I say to the hon. Members for South Angus (Mr. Fraser), Banff (Mr. Myles), Moray and Nairn (Mr. Pollock), Galloway and Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. Walker) "Gentlemen, look over your shoulder." In 1922, Tom Johnston, later a distinguished Secretary of State for Scotland, said that if this House disregarded moderate opinion it would play into the hands of the extremists. I still think that is so today. What my right hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow. Craigton (Mr. Millan) and my other colleagues are putting forward is a reasonable and moderate solution. If the Government do not accept it, we are likely to play into the hands of those whom I believe to be extremists.
That brings me to the harsh reality that I believe, unlike one of my hon. Friends who spoke previously, that we must consider in all seriousness what the Government have put forward. I should like to see this Act remain on the statute book, but I accept the reality and arithmetic of the House. We have a proposal that the Select Committee and Standing Committees should meet in Edinburgh. That is a proposal that we should seriously consider, though I may be in disagreement with some of my colleagues on this. Further, I should like to see the Scottish Grand Committee do the same. I may have an interest to declare with regard to the Royal High School, but it is a good chamber in which this kind of discussion should take place That is a more appropriate use for that chamber than the one suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell). He suggests that the Royal High School should become a music centre. But it is a forum for debating. It is a debating chamber and these debates would take place in Scotland which I believe would be an improvement on the present procedures of this House.
I do not see the geographical separation of Edinburgh and London as a problem. At the moment we have that separation as regards the Scottish Office. I believe that it would be more appropriate for the democratic scrutiny of the Scottish Office to take place in Edinbuurgh, where the Scottish Office is situated, rather than down here in London. I do not see why Conservative Members cannot organise the timetable of the House to ensure that that takes place. But that would be no substitute for the Scotland Act. It is no substitute for devolution. In itself it is a good thing and something that should have been done anyway, but it is entirely different from devolution, and entirely different from the Scotland Act.
I should like to ask three questions of the Secretary of State and hope that he will arrange for his colleague who is not here at the moment but who is to reply to answer them. If these discussions are to take place—and some of the correspondence in that regard seems to have gone astray if we are to believe what was said earlier—first, who is to be involved in them? Is it to be the leaders of the parties only, or is there to be a much wider involvement? Secondly, will the Government ensure some public debate about their proposals? Unless there is some public debate the talks might not be as fruitful as they otherwise could be. Thirdly, will the Minister, in his reply, indicate a timetable for the talks? Unless we have some clear indication of when the talks are to finish, there will be less enthusiasm or confidence in them, and there is very little at the moment.
Clearly the Government will win the vote tonight. That is beyond doubt, given the arithmetic of the House. Irrespective of the fact that the Government will win the vote, they will not have won the argument either in this House or in Scotland.
A large number of Opposition speakers remind me of the supporters of a football club whose team has played remarkably badly and who are trying to explain it away by saying that the referee was unfair, that the linesmen were unjust, that least one goal should not have been allowed, and, in general, what can be summed up in the remark "We was robbed". I do not accept that. What we are discussing is the commendable rapidity of the Government in bringing before the House a motion that is quite clearly carrying out the wishes of the majority of Scottish, and, indeed, British people.
Before I go any further, let me say that I have great pleasure in congratulating two of my hon. Friends who have made maiden speeches in the debate. First, my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrewshire, East (Mr. Stewart) made—if I may say so without being patronising—a speech that indicates that he is likely to be a very worthy successor to a Member of the House whom many of us on both sides admired and liked for a long time. Secondly, my hon. Friend the Member for Galloway (Mr. Lang) spoke with all the effectiveness and authority of one who has succeeded in defeating a Scottish nationalist. I think that the whole House will hope to hear from both of them again, not only on Scottish topics but on many other topics where they can display the ability that they have shown today.
In all these debates the word "devolution" has been used to mean almost anything. It has been used as if it were a state and not a method of arriving at a state. The word is used as though it means a method of government instead of what it really means, a method of changing the emphasis and balance of government.
The right hon. Member for Glasgow, Craigton (Mr. Millan) accused the Tory Party of being inconsistent. He said that people had changed their views. Of course they have, because in the course of the long debates that we had in the House it was made quite clear, not only here but in Scotland, what devolution really meant in the eyes of the then Government as expressed in the Scotland Bill. It was no longer possible to be imprecise about the meaning of the word. With every day's debate it became clearer. The Secretary of State made it clearest of all today.
The Secretary of State spoke about the transfer of real power and ended by saying that anything that came out of discussion between the parties, or anyone else, must end by looking very like the Scotland Act, with all its contradictions and anomalies, with the West Lothian problem still unsolved. His form of devolution implied the removal of powers from this Parliament and the diminution of the unity of the United Kingdom by creating an inevitable conflict between two Parliaments.
The argument of the right hon. Member for Craigton was precisely in favour of that. That is what he was seeking. He went on to say that the Conservative Government had no mandate in Scotland. That pointed the very case that he was trying not to make—that Labour Governments have no mandate in England. He was pointing quite clearly to the potential conflict between these two nations within the United Kingdom.
That has been our argument all along. I think that we should be grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for making it quite clear that the Labour Party, like the Bourbons, has forgotten nothing and learnt nothing, even after all our years of debate.
Since we understood that the Conservative Party, until this afternoon, was in favour of some kind of devolution, would the right hon. Gentleman care to say what kind of devolution there can be without some transfer of powers?
My speech would be shorter if I were allowed to make it in the order in which I orginally intended.
The hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Johnston) at least had the honesty to find a way out of this difficulty, which was by making a plea for a federal Britain, a method of resolving what might now become known as the Garscadden dilemma after the muddled speech of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar).
I want to make a plea to the Secretary of State and to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, who is to wind up the debate. When he refers to which way we are going now and refers, for example, to the question of party talks, I hope that he will remember that this is a matter for Parliament. It is not a matter that Parliament will tolerate being settled between the Front Benches and then presented as a fait accompli, support for which is made in some way a test for party loyalty. It is too important a constitutional matter to be dealt with except on a basis of the House of Commons expressing its view, as it has done in the past, at an early stage.
My hon. Friend the Member for Renfrewshire, East said that there were very strong arguments in favour of maintaining the status quo. I agree with him. I do not think that that is inconsistent with the view expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Galloway, who wanted a further degree of decentralisation.
The apparent conflict, if there is one, was resolved by the views expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galbraith), who made it plain that he regarded devolution and any further progress towards it as a method of delegation, of decentralisation and not of the dilution of parliamentary authority. I am with him. There are many things that can be done and many methods that can e looked at which, without in any way threatening the united authority of this Parliament, can lead to better government and, perhaps, less government in Scotland and in the United Kingdom.
It is true that we must get a wider degree of agreement. Those who mock the concept of an inquisitorial Assembly forget that we had as big a vote for the European Parliament as we get in any normal local government elections. In Scotland too, perhaps, the scoffers might remember that the one rather improbable Tory victory, in Strathclyde, was by Mr. Adam Ferguson, who was one of the most prominent Scotsmen campaigning against the Scotland Bill. That certainly did not harm him with the electors of Strathclyde in the recent European elections.
I suggest to my right hon. and hon. Friends that there are one or two decisions—other than on methods of government—important to Scotland, which ought to be taken fairly quickly. These are decisions about the development of energy policy, for example, which are vitally important for Scottish industry, for Clyde-side, and for Glasgow.
Again, there are decisions to be taken about the future of the fast breeder reactor. If that is not gone ahead with, there will be no further chance of graduate employment in that part of Scotland. There are many things on the lines suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Hillhead to give greater opportunities for Scotsmen in Scotland—although I am bound to say that some of us have not done too badly in England, in business and in other ways. Greater opportunities for Scotsmen in Scotland require rapid thought and rapid decisions now. But when it comes to constitutional and governmental techniques, I hope that my right hon. Friend will proceed with a considerable amount of caution and with very wide consultation.
I hope to be brief. The right hon. Member for Farnham (Mr. Macmillan) will forgive me if I do not follow him in his argument—if this is what we call it. I should, however, like to take the opportunity of congratulating the maiden speaker. Coming as I do from West Renfrew, I congratulate the new hon. Member for Renfrewshire, East (Mr. Stewart). We share at least one thing in common. We call it "Renfrew" with the accent on the first syllable, and not "Renfrew" with the accent on the second syllable. It might be helpful if some of his colleagues followed that pattern.
The hon. Member follows a distinguished lady, Miss Betty Harvie Anderson, a distinguished former Member of this House. She was both a partner and a sparring partner of mine over many years. I hope that on matters of mutual concern for our county the hon. Member and I will also be able to work occasionally on, at least, not highly political matters but matters of common concern.
I also want to be brief, as others have been, partly because if I were long, three things would happen. One is that I would be extremely long. Secondly, I might venture on certain truths, and that is not always helpful to the House at times. Thirdly, I might become angry.
I want to try to help to clear up one or two fallacies that have developed in the argument.
The hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Johnston) has left the Chamber. That is a pity. He had a number of very scathing remarks to make about the reason and purpose of the referendum which, at the same time, making quite sure of the point, he identified with me. I want to reject what he had to say about the reason for and origins of the referendum, whatever later use was made of it. I see that the hon. Member has returned to the Chamber. I think that it would be right to set out the record on "Why the referendum?"
There was both a practical case—whatever case that is—and a constitutional case. I do not believe that once representatives of a people enter into a contract with their electorate, they are entitled to break that contract without the say-so of the electorate. We were elected to this Parliament to make decisions. Each of us said in the election campaign "These are the things in which I believe. These are the things I want to bring about and about which I want to make decisions. These are the kinds of decisions I shall make. Elect me if you accept this." When we get elected, we cannot turn round and say "By the way, we shall not make these decisions. We are going to transfer these decisions to another place". That alters the relationship between the elector and his representative. The only people who can decide on that, therefore, cannot be us but must be the electorate themselves.
Therefore, I believe that there is a basic constitutional reason for the referendum. But there was another reason in this case. There was always a case for devolution, but undoubtedly that which precipitated and brought about devolution in this House at the time was the background of the rising demand for independence. I believe that there was always a constituency for independence in Scotland, however great or small that constituency might be. I have never believed that it was a major constituency.
Oh no, longer than that—25 years. But I shall explain all this—if my hon. Friend can follow the argument. There was always a constituency for independence in Scotland but never a measurable one for devolution in that sense. Scotland should have greater power. People always want more power in decision making. But devolution, which was constitutionally justified, was linked to independence.
We are not elected to create a new State. Only the people can decide that. There was an absolute case for the question to be put to the Scottish people, and it included the independence question. The argument for a referendum was based on the first question, and devolution fitted into that. Neither the House nor the Government took that argument on board. The constitutional case was absolute that the question should be put, and it necessarily included both questions. There was support for that from others who could see more clearly than this House or the Government. Of the 20 parliamentary Labour candidates for Scotland who were contacted in the short period of time, 19 argued the case for the two questions—and some of those hon. Members are here tonight.
Almost by definition the devolution proposals retained constitutional anomalies. The greatest of those is the West Lothian anomaly. That has never been answered. But then, there is no logical answer, as is the case in many constitutions. If the British constitution were put in writing, people would think that we were crazy to try to implement it. But it works and has evolved that way because there is a political will in the community to accept it.
The argument for the second question in the referendum was so that that political will could be established to make the Assembly work despite its anomalies and problems. The Assembly would be given a chance to continue in existence. It needed security during its first few years to meet and conquer the problem of those anomalies. I assure the hon. Member for Inverness that that argument was genuine and not bogus, whatever arguments have later been adduced.
Innocent that I am, it was seized upon by others as a means of getting the Bill through this House. It was being said around the House that there would be the greatest difficulty in getting this Bill through unless an assurance was given that the Scottish people wanted to support it and see it through its difficulties. That was how it got through the House.
The 40 per cent. argument was a hurdle created by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham). I fought bitterly against it. It was a great mistake. Rules cannot be changed in midstream. There are dangerous implications and problems in a constitutional change, but there is nothing wrong with saying that there shall be a measurable amount of support to carry it through. The danger of bringing in new measures in midstream is that people will cry "Foul" and not accept the result of the referendum.
I said that, and I said something else that suddenly becomes important—that the 40 per cent. rule from the point of view of my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury would be counter-productive. Nothing is more designed to maximise the "Yes" vote.
I do not believe that the 40 per cent. rule is now significant. The main effect was to maximise the "Yes" vote and it almost certainly ensured a "Yes" majority in Scotland. The opposite cannot be argued.
The "Yes" campaign people resent the argument that people were assured that an abstention equalled "No", but both sides have honour, and I do not know why they are slanging one another on that. Those who wanted a "Yes" vote said that an abstention equalled a "No" vote because of the 40 per cent. rule That was also absolutely true, and there is nothing dishonourable in that. The "No" people are now maintaining that it was said that an abstention equalled a "No" vote and both arguments are true. The argument that an abstention equalled a "No" vote helped to maximise the "Yes" vote. By the same token, there is not a powerful argument on the basis of the figures produced.
We must look at the figures carefully. The problem is not the 40 per cent. rule, which has triggered the debate. We would have had the debate in any case. It was a consultative referendum and therefore had to be brought back to this House.
On the contrary, it would have been precisely whether we were to implement the decision of the referendum. Although it would not have had the trigger of the repeal, it would have the same purport. In that case, the basic argument would have remained the same. It would not have been about the 40 pet cent.
I fought against that. It was a nonsense and dangerous at that point. The result was 31 per cent. "No", 33 per cent. "Yes", 36 per cent. "Don't know". The argument would still have been based on those indecisive figures. No one could argue that there was the wholehearted support for devolution which many of us believed was a necessity if the Assembly was to work. The Assembly had serious anomalies and would have cracked. That is why I argued for the referendum.
We must consider the West Lothian question and in the context of a hung parliament its importance becomes more apparent. The great flaw is the absence of finance-raising powers. We cannot say to our people that if we became an Assembly and politically encouraged them to demand everything, we could still be in the impeccable political position of blaming London for not providing the resources. We would have created without finance-raising power an Assembly that was insatiable because there would be nothing to stop it making demands—and we are politicians—and everything to prevent these demands being fulfilled.
I do not believe in irresponsible Assemblies. If people want to vote, for example, for a school they must also be prepared to raise the taxes to pay for it. The Assembly must be given finance-raising powers. There were great spikes driven through the Bill. It was hoped that the political will could be developed to support it.
As for the future, the vote is not significant in itself. The proposition is whether we have discussions before or after repeal. We are not fighting the devolution issue again. It is important but not in the way that has been argued tonight. I am prepared to vote with the Opposition tonight. I accept that in these discussions we should perhaps have some sort of framework.
But the Scotland Bill is not all that bad in its general structure. It has three main spikes however—the West Lothian question, the lack of finance-raising powers and the failure to get the second question put in the referendum. But despite this it could provide a framework.
There is one major difficulty with which we must deal. When we are considering this question we must realise that one of the main reasons for the "No" votes and certainly the main reason for the abstentions in the referendum was the fear that the Act would lead to a polarisation in Britain, and that in place of social or class politics we would substitute national politics—Scotland versus England—which eventually would lead to separation. Rightly or wrongly, that was the main worry.
I see nothing wrong in a pluralist society with Socialists entering into discussions with the Tory Party on constitutional issues. But I believe that the Tories are incapable of bringing in the kind of extension of democracy that is required in this country. Only the Labour movement can develop such ideas.
We must extend devolution in the sense of giving power to the people not just horizontally across the geography of Britain. We must devolve power from the elite and the elitist structures of our country down to the ordinary people. That means a massive change in the economic power and control of the country.
We have talked about Select Committees. Nobody has said that the Scottish Select Committees will give us the power to send for the leadership of the vast companies or to investigate them. I want that to happen. No one has said that the Select Committees will even be able to send for papers, or for the Secretary of State for Scotland. I want that also. I want the Select Committees held in Scotland, and in public. We must extend democracy. This extension also involves the decentralisation of the structure of government if we are to avoid polarisation. We must establish in the regions of England the same type of decentralisation as we had hoped to establish in Scotland. I know that there is no major demand for regional government, but if we are to avoid this desperate polarisation we should as a step forward establish economic agencies in the regions. When Scotland is fighting to get a new steel works, I want it not to be in competition with England, but in competition with the North-East, the North-West, the South-East and the South-West. Therefore if we lose we have not lost to another nation; we have lost to another region or another area. That sort of multiple competition is healthier and will help to solidify our unity.
I also believe that with an extension of planning areas for local authorities we can begin to develop economic and other environmental planning. We can begin to develop the structures of regional government. This in turn can help to establish a de facto kind of federalism. This is the way forward.
The way forward politically is that the Labour movement must develop arguments along these lines. I do not believe that the Scottish people will welcome another attempt at devolution on a polarised basis. We must link up with the working people of Britain as a whole. I do not believe that the Conservatives, representing, as they do, the elitist power of big business and all the vested interests, have very much to contribute to this. That is why I say that the repeal of the Act before discussions is not all that significant, because in any case the Conservatives do not wish to contribute much to these discussions since they wish to see power in the hands of the few. I am here, among other reasons, to give power back to the many.
It is a great pleasure, as always, to follow the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan), who gave us tonight, as he has done so often in these long debates on devolution, his own particular and unique brand of agonised integrity. I agree with very much of what he said, apart from the last sentences.
It is a particular pleasure for me to take part in this debate. In fact, in all my years in the House I cannot think of any debate that it has given me more pleasure to participate in. I am glad to play some small part in the burial service for this miserable Act.
The right hon. Member for Glasgow. Craigton (Mr. Millan) gave his reasons why he thought that this repeal order should not be laid. I wish to give my reasons, simply and briefly, why I entirely support the Secretary of State in bringing this order before the House.
The first reason is that we are under a statutory obligation to repeal the Act. That is not the best reason, but it is sufficient. It is worth emphasising because so much has been said today about the 40 per cent. provision. It is as well to remind the House that this was brought in by members of the then Government. I agree that it was enthusiastically supported by myself, but it was not a Conservative amendment.
It was made by a member of the Government side. That was the phrase that I used and I am sure that Hansard will confirm this in the morning.
Today there has been a certain obfuscation of the principles underlying the 40 per cent. provision. We had the previous Secretary of State for Scotland, the right hon. Member for Craigton asking why we should have had the 40 per cent. rule at all. He asked how many Members of this House got 40 per cent. of the vote. He also pointed out that there was not a 40 per cent. poll in the European elections. In saying this he was ignoring the principal point—that a referendum is different from an election. This point cannot be made too often, especially if the reverse and the untruth about it continues to be put forward. It is perfectly proper that there should be a minimum assent in the referendum, otherwise the question should fall. Whereas, in an ordinary election hon. Members can be thrown out at the next election, and Acts can be repealed, once set up a Scottish Assembly would almost certainly never be repealed. That is why it is right to say that this 40 per cent. for a referendum is based on an entirely different principle from percentages in general elections.
The second reason why I am very glad that this order has been laid so speedily is that certainly in my time in the House I have never known a Bill to be put through in a way that so humiliated the processes and the procedures of the House. We all know that it was a Bill that was born out of fear and panic. That fear and panic was not confined to one side of the House. We also know that there was not a genuine majority for the Bill in the House. Those of us who opposed it may have been wrong, but what is certainly not in dispute is that hon. Members went through the Government Lobbies when they did not believe in the Bill. It had very few friends. In fact, it was commonplace that in the debates in the House on the Bill on the Government Benches on most of the long afternoons one would see the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) alone in opposition. He was nearly always by himself, but sometimes he was joined by the then hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian, the late Mr. John Mackintosh, who supported the Government vigorously on this matter. Generally speaking, there was no support for the Bill on the Government Benches.
The most humiliating aspect of the treatment to which the procedures of the House were subjected during the passage of the Bill was the fact that the guillotine was so arranged—and I hope that my own Front Bench will never forget this—that 75 per cent. of the most important constitutional Bill in Scotland's history since 1707 was not debated by the House. That was wrong, whether it was done by a Conservative or a Labour Government. That is the second reason—namely, the humiliating procedures to which the House was subjected.
Let me give the third reason why I am so glad that my right hon. Friend has taken this step. It is that the original piece of legislation was a bad Act. It was not just a case, as the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) said, of the referendum having been lost because it was tainted by association with the SNP. I have no doubt that that did not help, but that was not the real reason. What happened was that the people of Scotland did not want devolution.
We had an eloquent speech by the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Foulkes), who told the House why he believed in devolution. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is totally sincere in putting forward arguments that many of us have heard on many occasions. The only problem about that speech was that it contained arguments put to the people of Scotland in February, and the people of Scotland failed to support them. That figure amounted to two-thirds of the Scottish people. Although the hon. Member is sincere in his view, I must remind him that those views did not convince the Scottish people. He is at liberty to say "We were right and we shall continue to fight for that principle", but he cannot use that argument to say that my right hon. Friend is wrong to bring forward this order tonight.
Those of us who fought the referendum campaign know that, even more than in a general election campaign, the arguments in the Scottish referendum were recognised. Those arguments were not always agreed to, but they were considered by the voters of Scotland. It was said that the legislation would mean more government, more democracy, greater cost, and that it would cut the number of Scottish Members of Parliament and would lead eventually to a break-up of the United Kingdom. All those arguments were understood by the people of Scotland. I think that, at the end of the day, the people understood them properly and, in effect, they threw out the Scotland Act.
One cannot argue that it was a badly fought campaign and that people did not know what was going on. The newspapers and the rest of the media were full of nothing else. It was even stronger than in a general election. Indeed, one Scottish newspaper every day carried a headline "Vote No in the referendum". No Scottish newspaper had "Vote Tory" or "Vote Labour" on its front page every day. The fact is that the Scottish press—and I do not criticise that—took a more positive and partisan attitude on devolution than on anything I have experienced in my political career. Nobody can say that the people of Scotland did not know what was going on and that the subject was not drummed into them from both sides night and day.
The fact is that it was a bad Act, and the people recognised that fact. The corollary is that it was not just a bad Act because of details here or there. It was bad because it contained elements that could never be put right.
It contained the unstable element of the West Lothian question, to which no answer was ever forthcoming. It contained the unstable element of endless argument and bickering over the size of the grant given by this House to a Scottish assembly. These were matters which would never have been put right, and the people of Scotland recognise this. Although they would not have articulated this matter, as I am about to do, I think that fair-minded people in Scotland, as in other parts of the United Kingdom, recognised that in a unitary State, such as we have in this country, it is impossible to give permanently an advantage to one part of the United Kingdom without necessarily and correspondingly giving a disadvantage to other parts of the United Kingdom.
I believe that it was the fear of disruption of the unity of the United Kingdom that won the campaign for those of us who were on the "No" side. It was the belief that the unity of the country was at risk because of the existence of the Scotland Act. Although the right hon. Member for Craigton obviously wished to preserve the unity of the United Kingdom, I disagreed with him on his proposals. The people of Scotland also took that view, and that is what turned the issue.
There is another reason why I think my right hon. Friend is right to bring this order before the House so swiftly. However one juggles with the figures, the fact is that two-thirds of the Scottish people failed to support this Act. It comes ill from the other side for the former Secretary of State for Scotland to say that the most important fact in this debate was that 1 per cent. or so more of the people voted "Yes" than voted "No". But that is not the most important fact. The fact is that two-thirds of the country would not support what the previous Government had done.
As the hon. Members for Inverness (Mr. Johnston) and for Renfrewshire, West admitted, the fact is that, had there not been a 40 per cent. requirement, there is no doubt that if people had believed the Government when they said that to abstain was to vote "No" and therefore abstained, there would have been a majority of "No" votes. But that is not the reason why we on the Conservative Benches support my right hon. Friend. We support the repeal of this order because two-thirds of the people of Scotland failed to support the most important constitutional change proposed in 250 years. Since they failed to support it, it should be repealed.
As for the future, I listened with great interest to what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland said this afternoon about the all-party talks. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State in his reply to the debate will clarify one minor point. Previously we spoke of a constitutional conference embracing a number of matters of constitutional significance to this country—not just as they affected Scotland, but as they affected Ulster, Wales and the House of Lords. Are we still to have that conference, or will it merely relate to the future of the Scotland Act? No doubt my hon. Friend will touch on that matter in his reply.
I warmly welcome the institution of the Select Committee procedure. I hope that the Government will think again about not having a Scottish Select Committee right from the beginning. I believe that such a Select Committee should operate right from the beginning, and that it should undertake its work on the same principles as do the other Select Committees. If the Department of Education and Science in England is thought worthy of being monitored by a Select Committee, certainly the subject of education and science in Scotland also should be so monitored. I hope that the Government will reconsider that point.
I have no doubt that this country requires changes constitutional, changes legislative and changes administrative. I have no doubt that all these changes are necessary, and certainly necessary in Scotland. But the principle on which those changes should be made is that any change should be such as can apply equally to all parts of the United Kingdom, and not just to Scotland. I hope that that maxim and underlying principle will inform all the proposals which my right hon. Friend later puts forward.
I welcome the opportunity—perhaps as the only Labour Member present representing an English constituency—to take part in the debate. The record will show that I was the first Back Bench speaker in the previous Parliament who spoke against devolution as it is proposed in the Act. However, I do not wish to repeat that speech. I should merely like to say that I never thought there was much merit in this sort of devolution.
The hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat) was known for his bitter opposition to the Bill all along the line when it was not so popular in Scotland to take up such a position. He was consistent in that opposition. The referendum proved finally that the desire for this sort of devolution, contrary to the belief of the Labour Government Ministers, was not there.
The hon. Member for Aberdeen, South said that today was the funeral of the Act and, of course, it is the last nail in the coffin.
I should like to take up some of the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan). He cast the net a little wider when he spoke of the English regions having no desire for regional government or devolution. With all due respect to my hon. Friend, I do not believe that he is qualified to make such a remark.
Two years ago, I entered a plea on behalf of large communities in England—the type of area in which I was brought up and which I represent. There is a body that is now known as the Association of Metropolitan Authorities, the component authorities of which are mainly the London boroughs and the large cities of the Midlands and the North. The population of those local authorities is about 22 million but those people have never been considered in any sort of devolution proposal. They number nearly three times the population of Scotland and Wales together. It is time that some sort of case was entered on their behalf.
It saddens me that I cannot find any trace in the Gracious Speech of devolution proposals to be considered in the next Session of Parliament, which will run for 18 months. However, the United Kingdom as a whole cries out for a form of devolution. It is odd to hear Government Ministers attempting to ram their policies down local authorities' throats and talking about widening the area of decision making. In my lifetime—before I came to this place I spent nearly 20 years in local government—one of the worst acts of a Government was to take decision making further away from the people by the local government reorganisation that was forced through the House against the advice of the local authorities involved. That was undertaken by the last Conservative Government, and it was the responsibility of the right hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker), who is now looking after our interests in Europe. I hope that he does better there than he did here at that time.
At one time, local people had immediate access to the town hall and action ensued when they saw their locally elected representative. No such thing happens now—that access has been taken away from them. We now have a structure of county councils imposed on areas in which they were never needed. A host of authorities have been set up which are answerable to no one—regional water boards, area health authorities and regional health authorities that are appointed and cannot be taken to task when they become too bureaucratic. I hope that the Government will bring back a measure of democracy to some of these areas.
I represent one of the largest cities in the country. The large cities retained a great many of their rights to decide on policies. However, other areas of the country, the middle-size authorities such as Bristol, Stoke and Hull, lost important and valuable services, for example, education. I do not see any signs that the Government are prepared to hand back those services to the people who carried them out rather better than they are carried out at present.
I make a plea on behalf of the large local authorities that they should retain their autonomy. It is regrettable that the Secretary of State for the Environment—the now accepted political bully boy of the Government Front Bench—is making statements to the effect that if the local authorities do not do what he says he will withhold rate support grants and so on. Never in my lifetime in politics, either in local government or in this place, have I heard a Government Front Bench spokesman of any party dare to make any such remark. He is also saying that he will bring in legislation that will force large cities with families on housing waiting lists numbering 20,000 to 30,000 to sell off council houses against their will. There are councils who fought their local authority elections on policies based on the fact that they would not sell council houses.
On the day of the general election, areas that were returning Conservative hon. Members were emptying the town halls of Conservative councillors. It is remiss of any Government to talk in terms of extending democracy and, at the same time, to behave in such a manner. I hope that the Government will examine the problems of the English regions. There is no point in my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrewshire, West saying that there is no—
I am sorry to interrupt my hon. Friend, but, with respect he has twice misrepresented what I said. I was arguing the case for regional government in England. I said that there was no major demand for it although there are many, like my hon. Friend, who have been arguing the case. I said that if a start was made with the setting up of economic agencies, the impetus and momentum would be achieved. I am on his side and not against him.
I thought that my hon. Friend put his case differently. I would not be in favour of starting up economic agencies before there was any political control over them. Once they are put into operation they become part of the bureaucracy. The very people that man them start to fight against political control.
There were distinct signs in the northeast and north-west of England that the Act, which we shall see the end of today, would give favourable terms to Scotland and Wales. In some respects, Scotland and Wales are already treated more favourably than the area which I represent. I do not cavil at that—perhaps the need is greater. Nevertheless, hon. Members from English regions expect to get a fair crack of the whip.
I should like to take to task the hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galbraith) for making some of the remarks he did. He said that he would like to see Scottish Question Time broken up into weekly quarter-hour sessions. It is well known that Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish Members have two bites at the cherry. Once a month, English Members can question a Minister but if they are unlucky in the draw they are too far down the list of questions to be called. Their constituents do not realise that they started to make that contribution. However, our Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish colleagues get a full hour of questions. They also have the extra bonus on the United Kingdom basis and are entitled to the same privileges—rightly so—in putting their questions to Secretaries of State who hold briefs for the entire United Kingdom. If there is any alteration, I hope that it will favour English Members so that they may ask a few more questions.
I wanted to take part in the debate particularly to make my plea on behalf of the English regions. The Association of Metropolitan Authorities represents more than 20 million people in the large conurbations where most of our inner-city problems are to be found.
If this Government or any of their successors, of whatever colour, do not start to move towards pressing decision making downwards or inviting decision making at a lower level, we are in for serious problems. I would sooner approach the matter on that basis than mess about again with a measure such as the Scotland Act, which was divisive and did not command support in the area where support for it was said to be strongest.
If we had tried devolution on the basis that I have proposed, it could have been done without massive elections. We could have brought it into operation through appointments from local authorities on a population basis. We could then have taken control of the ad hoc bodies that no one controls at present. A scheme on that basis could be brought in quickly and with good will. The Government have four or five years to run, and they will be failing in their duty if they do not examine such a possibility.
I listened with great interest to the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Dean). It is refreshing for Scottish Members to hear the English dimension of the thorny question of devolution. However, I hope that the hon. Member will forgive me if I do not follow up his remarks, but return to the question of the Scotland Act.
It seems that there have been two strands of argument from the Opposition Benches during the debate. The first was alluded to by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat). I refer to the number of excuses that we have heard for the result of the referendum. The main excuse has been that the people of Scotland did not understand what devolution was about.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South rightly said, there was more publicity on television and radio and in the newspapers during the referendum campaign than there has been in any general election campaign. Having worked and lived in Scotland constantly for the past four years, I know that in that time there has been more publicity about devolution and the Scotland Act than about any other issue. It is nonsense for any Opposition Member to claim that the referendum result was achieved because people did not know what they were voting about.
I apologise to the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) for missing his speech. I hope that I shall be able to read it tomorrow. I have listened to the rest of the debate and it appears to me that the second strand that has become apparent is that Opposition Members tend always to think of devolution as being synonymous with the Scotland Act. They talk about the Scottish people wanting devolution. That is the trap that many hon. Members fell into during the referendum campaign. I believe that the Scottish people, who are canny, have realised the distinction between the principle of devolution and the sort of devolution proposed in the Scotland Act.
My hon. Friend the Member for Galloway (Mr. Lang) started his fine maiden speech by saying that the Act was born of expediency out of opportunism. I believe that it was not opportunism, but fear. That was the beginning of this misconceived legislation. From then on, it was formed on the view that it could be carried through in the referendum under the mantle of the word "devolution" and could be delivered in such a form as to suit only one political party—the Labour Party.
The hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) said that the establishment of a rightful mandate in Scotland, in political terms, required an Assembly. He was asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind) about the situation in England over the past four years in which the Labour Party, although in Government, had no mandate. The hon. Member for Garscadden said that that was no concern of his. What should be a concern of the hon. Gentleman is that although the provision that Scotland would have the true political mandate that he is seeking was entrenched in the Scotland Act, so was the provision that Scottish Members would always be available to top up the votes of English Labour Members.
If the situation in England in the past four years was unfair and if the situation in Scotland today is unfair—and I concede neither of those points—it would have been not only wrong but positively unjust to allow the Act to go through with such unfairness entrenched in it.
Devolution has been misunderstood by those who put forward the Scotland Act. In the public mind devolution means better government, which, in turn, means less centralised government and more accountable government. That is what the Scottish people are looking for when they talk about devolution.
The right hon. Member for Glasgow, Craigton (Mr. Millan) said something slightly different. He said that devolution was about the transfer of real power. That might be true if he could claim that power was being transferred from institutions to people. But the Scotland Act did not do that. It merely transferred power from one centralised bureaucratic institution to another. Merely localising centralised bureaucratic institutions does not solve the problems of accountability or less centralisation.
Surely that was the lesson of the local government reform in 1974, when so much was promised in terms of increased democracy but when we saw only that centralised bureaucratic systems are as remote and unaccountable wherever they be and however far distant they be—whether at Westminster, in a Scottish Assembly or the Lothian regional council.
The Scotland Act would merely have created a new Executive and, perhaps more frightening, a new and increasing bureaucracy. It would have created new sources of unaccountable patronage, legislation and restraint. All the things that I was given to understand that it was setting out to avoid would have been achieved.
During the referendum campaign I was amazed to hear many "Yes" campaigners telling the people of Scotland that having Ministers sitting in Scotland would control bureaucracy and make the Executive more accountable. It is a total misapprehension of politics to believe that Ministers can call Executives to account. By their very nature, Ministers are part of those Executives, and it requires the elected representatives of the people, outside the Executives, to be able to exercise control over them.
Instead of less centralised government being created by the Scotland Act, we were being offered another tier of the same. Instead of more accountability, we were being given an executive Assembly with even greater sway. Instead of less bureaucracy, we were being offered a system with an inbuilt potential for increasing bureacracy in Scotland to a very large degree.
To those who disagree with that, I would say "Think about the way in which this Act was welcomed by the civil servants and by local government officials in Scotland." They realised, even if some politicians did not, that what the Act was setting up was a bureaucratic bonanza for years to come. In the referendum the House of Commons sensibly asked for the views of the Scottish people, to test that much-vaunted and much-made claim that this measure had overwhelming support in Scotland.
The result, whatever calculation one can make on its statistics, was anything but overwhelming. Again, during the referendum campaign, much was made of the fact that the. Act was unworkable in terms of the stability of the United Kingdom. I believe that it would be a mistake to look at the effect of the Act only on the United Kingdom, because that was not the reason for the referendum result in Scotland.
I concede to my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South that a number of people voted "No" because they were frightened that the Act might upset the stability of the United Kingdom. But many others voted "No" because it simply did not match up to the aspirations and desires of the Scottish people. This was a Scottish decision, taken for Scottish reasons in Scotland, and, whatever the 40 per cent. rule might email in terms of value, I believe that the verdict given by the Scottish people was such that this House, in conscience, could not force a major constitutional change of this kind upon the people of Scotland.
I for one will be delighted to see the Act consigned to the pages of the constitutional theory books, where I hope it will be used for many years to come as an example of how not to go about bringing power to the people. But I would not be so pleased if I thought that this was an end to the important debate on the general question of the future government of Scotland, because I believe that there is a genuine need and a genuine desire for constitutional reform not only in Scotland but in the rest of the United Kingdom.
I welcome the Secretary of State's remarks about the possibility of setting up a Select Committee to monitor the workings of the Scottish Office, but I have one or two qualifications to make. I see the setting up of such a Select Committee as a procedural reform—one that I believe is long overdue and that I hope will open the windows of the Scottish Office and at last bare to the gaze of the Scottish people some of the decisions that so often in the past have been made behind closed doors.
On Monday, the House will debate the question of having the same sort of committees for the other Departments in the United Kingdom. I hope that whatever the outcome of the all-party talks was—whether a constitutional committee was accepted or not—we would not find ourselves in a position in which the English Departments and the United Kingdom Departments had Select Committees of this sort but, because ours had been tied to the all-party talks, the Scottish Office was left without a Select Committee to monitor its proceedings. I believe that the Scottish Office has a greater need of a committee to monitor the way it works than any of the other Departments within the United Kingdom.
But this can only be a beginning. In a way it is only an answer to the element of accountability, which is an important part of devolution; it does not and cannot answer the equal need for creating a system of less centralised and less bureaucratic government, throughout the United Kingdom but in Scotland in particular.
During the referendum campaign, many people in Scotland listened to the speech by Lord Home. The basic message of that speech was that the referendum was about the Scotland Act and not about the principle of devolution. He asked people to vote against it on that basis. He said that it would not be an end to devolution, and I support him in that view. I hope that over the coming months work will start again on seeking a system that will devolve and diminish the burden of bureacracy on Scotland and other parts of the United Kingdom.
The lesson of the Scotland Act is that devolution cannot fairly be imposed unilaterally, and should not be so imposed. The question of the good governance of the United Kingdom and all its component parts requires to be looked at in a balanced and uniform way. That is a task which I hope Her Majesty's Government will undertake over the coming months. I believe that on this occasion there is a far better chance of that sort of study succeeding, because at least we are not now bedevilled by the spectre of the SNP, in political terms, hanging over our heads in Scotland.
We owe this work to the people of Scotland. Their votes have been interpreted in many different ways and I would like to add one more. They said "No" by inference and abstention to this piece of legislation, but they did not say "No" to constitutional reform in Scotland; nor, indeed, were they asked to. By all means let the House bury the Scotland Act tonight, once and for all, but that must not be the end of the road. It must be the beginning of a new and more constructive chapter in creating for Scotland the better government that both her nationhood and her people deserve.
I am sure that the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Ancram) will forgive me if I am somewhat critical of his analysis of the referendum result, and of his understanding of the Scotland Act 1978. Listening to him, I came to terms at long last with my own failure, as a Minister in the Labour Government, to get across to the people just what the Act meant, because if I was not able to convince people like the hon. Gentleman that devolution meant devolution, I can understand why we had so much difficulty in convincing the people of Scotland.
The hon. Gentleman's analysis that one cannot equate devolution with the Act is so totally wrong as to be almost beyond comprehension. One of the problems we had, as I am among the first to admit, during the referendum debate was that people—and I suspect that he played his part in giving them this impression—equated devolution to a certain extent with separation. That is one of the reasons why we had so much difficulty during the referendum campaign. But to say that one cannot equate devolution with the Scotland Act is a total misunderstanding of what the Act was about.
Another point on which I take issue with the hon. Gentleman is his analysis that we were creating, in setting up an elected Assembly, a haven for bureaucrats and that Ministers could not call those bureaucrats, as he described them, to account. That is a further misunderstanding of what the Act contained.
I take the hon. Gentleman back a stage further, to the original Scotland and Wales Bill, which was later split up and replaced by two Bills, the Scotland Bill and the Wales Bill. Contained in the Scotland and Wales Bill were specific provisions to create a Committee stage in the Scottish Assembly that would have been an examination of the civil servants and the Ministers before legislation even reached the Floor of the Assembly. There is no doubt that there was an ability in the Scotland Act for the Assembly to institute such procedures. I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman has misunderstood the whole point of the Act, but there is no doubt that there would have been greater accountability, and I think that that is one of the greatest losses that we have suffered.
I hope that I did not say that it was not possible to equate devolution with the Scotland Act. I meant to say that it was not possible to equate it exclusively with the Scotland Act and that devolution was not necessarily synonymous with the Scotland Act. Other forms of devolution could be examined. It appeared that during the referendum campaign the Labour Party argued that this was the only form of devolution,
The Labour Party presented to the people of Scotland meaningful legislative devolution. I accept that there are other forms of devolution.
This has been a back pedalling debate for Government Members. I have never heard so many back pedalling speeches in one debate. The hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat) has a credible record on devolution. He has never supported it. I understand his feelings. I remember when he was a lonely figure in the Conservative Party in Scotland, when he was totally outside a group of Scottish Tories which included the Under-secretary of State for Scotland—the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind)—the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South and for North Angus and Mearns (Mr. Buchanan-Smith), the Secretary of State, and the hon. Member for Edinburgh, North (Mr. Fletcher), who is now an Under-Secretary of State and who wants to sell the Royal High School. They were led by the arch anti-devolutionist, Teddy Taylor, whose 1974 election material could stand comparison with any anti-devolution material published by any other party.
We have heard a complete retraction of everything that has been said by members of the Tory Party in Scotland for the last six or more years. I am not surprised by the attitude of the Secretary of State. Few politicians can have had the doubtful pleasure of acting as the midwife and the undertaker.
The Secretary of State, when he was an Under-Secretary in the Scottish Office, was responsible for piloting the reform of local government in 1973. He set up the greatest bureaucracy that Scotland has ever seen. He was present at that birth. He was responsible, in one fell swoop, for reducing by 50 per cent. the number of elected local councillors and for doubling the number of bureaucrats. He was responsible for a 100 per cent. increase in bureaucracy and a 50 per cent. decrease in democracy. It is no surprise that the midwife should now act as the undertaker to what would have been a worthwhile extension of democracy in the Scotland Act. It is sad to behold.
The hon. Member for Pentlands will say many of the things that he must say from the Dispatch Box with his tongue in his cheek and with much regret that a Tory Government have to place the repeal order before the House.
The debate is not about whether we should implement the Scotland Act. It is about whether it would be better to keep the Scotland Act on the statute book while these all-party talks take place or whether we should take it off the statute book.
Is the hon. Member saying that if the Government were to accede to that request and the all-party talks were to fail he would vote for the repeal of the Scotland Act?
I intended to refer to that. We are not debating a commencement order. My hon. Friend the Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan) was wrong to say that if the debate had taken place against the background of achieving a 40 per cent. vote it would have been the same. The debate would not have been the same because we are debating a repeal order.
When the Secretary of State was under pressure from my right hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Craigton (Mr. Millan) he made an important comment which went over our heads. He used the words "if and when the talks begin". That does not show much enthusiasm for getting the talks rolling and coming to a conclusion about how we should proceed on devolution. The Minister must not be surprised if some of us suspect that the Government will start the talks with less than enthusiasm.
I have listened to the speeches of some senior Conservatives on the Back Benches. Warnings were sounded about what they would and would not allow the Government to do. It was significant that warning shots were fired across the Government's bows by such senior hon. Members. They said that they would not tolerate devolution proposals being put before the House in the future.
That kills the argument that somehow or other, by a magic formula, one can find a solution to constitutional questions outside party politics. Britain's relationship with the EEC is a constitutional matter. Devolution is, and will continue to be, a political matter.
What happens if the talks fail? I suspect that we will not be able to reach an agreement. The Scottish people would rather have an honest answer and be told that it has not been possible to reach agreement. That will leave the way clear for the political campaign. I would encourage my party to continue the campaign for devolution. I am sure that the SNP would want to continue its campaign for separation and the Liberals their campaign for a federal solution.
If it is suggested that, between separation, federalism and the form of meaningful devolution that we want, we can reach a compromise with a Government who do not want any change, I hold out few hopes for the successful outcome of the talks. Therefore, the Minister really ought not to be surprised if we are a bit sceptical about these talks and their eventual outcome. In considering what my own party ought to do in relation to devolution, I must comment on the remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrewshire, West. I say this with the greatest kindness, but I thought his speech was one of the most confused that I have ever heard my hon Friend make. I am sorry he is not here. I held back till the end in the hope that he would be here.
I am pleased to see my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Foot) here. He has been in the Labour and trade union movement far longer than I have and has fought many great battles in his time.
For my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrewshire, West to suggest that until we get Socialism we do not do anything is contradiction of the political process. If we wait until we have Socialism before we act, that will be the surest recipe for delay in our approach to the problems of devolution. I say that in all honesty. I am a realist. I work and live in the real world. There is no point in turning a blind eye to the problems that we face in this country, especially when at the general election nearly two-thirds of the people in this country—certainly in the South-East of England—voted for their own pockets. We have a massive job to do to convince these people to have care and compassion for their fellows throughout the world, and to have care and compassion for the underdeveloped countries of the Third world. Anybody who believes, against that selfish background, that Socialism is just round the corner is living in his own fool's paradise.
My submission tonight is that, as an act of good faith, if nothing else, the Government should keep this Bill on the statute book until these talks have been exhausted. The talks will take place and become exhausted when they reach a conclusion. There is no good reason, except the reason of indecent haste—and that is not a good reason—why this Bill should be removed from the statute book tonight of all nights, when at the same time the Secretary of State issues an invitation to the other parties to join all-party talks.
The Secretary of State said that there was a demand at one time for devolution but that, going on the results of the general election, that demand was no longer there. However, he said that if the demand was again created—it seems as if we are in Sainsbury's the grocers in a supply and demand context—the Government would come back and offer devolution again. That would be the greatest mistake that this House of Commons could make. Now is the time to do something meaningful about devolution. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, South should have been told that we have had Scottish Select Committees before. That is not an innovation, though without any doubt we would welcome it again.
Let no one be under any misapprehension. This subject will not go away. It will be raised again and again, because the people of Scotland want more say in their own affairs. We have a responsibility to make sure that their demands are met in a meaningful way.
I listened with interest to the speech of the hon. Member for Stirling, Falkirk and Grangemouth (Mr. Ewing), since I recognise that this is a matter on which he speaks with great sincerity. After all, he was one of the few Members on the Labour Benches who night after night defended the Scotland Bill through thick and thin, usually with empty Benches behind him. For that reason I can understand and sympathise with him in his sorrow at seeing his baby lowered into its grave tonight.
My respect for his sincerity however were just a little thin when he turned to berate Ministers for what he called their lack of enthusiasm in suggesting all-party talks on this subject. I am sure that he recalls, as I do, that when the previous Government were in considerable trouble over this legislation an offer was made by the Tory Front Bench to have all-party constitutional talks to try to find a way out of the difficulty. Not only did he and his colleagues not show any great enthusiasm for that suggestion, they turned it down flat.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat) said, this is really a burial service. We are here to bury an Act which was the product of two agonising years of debate and argument. We all, on both sides of the House, have to admit that the Act was a pretty sickly child. There was never a natural majority behind it in the last Parliament. The same could be said for its twin, the Wales Bill, and both measures died in the referendums on 1 March. We are now merely shovelling the earth into the grave.
Before I proceed, I would, with kindness, like to enlighten the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Foulkes), who at one stage expressed some surprise that my right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) was even taking part in this debate, being an English Member. The lie was probably given to that by the speech of his hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Dean). I must tell him that when this Bill was going through its long Committee stage during the last Parliament a distinguished contribution was made by my right hon. Friend and by many other Members from England, Wales and Northern Ireland on both sides of the House. Among his own colleagues we have only to mention the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham), who did as much as the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) in shaping the legislation that was eventually put to the test by the Scottish people on 1 March.
The reasons why we opposed that legislation, whether we came from England Wales, Northern Ireland or wherever, could not have been more clearly illustrated than they were yet again in the speech of his right hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Craighton (Mr. Millan).
For example, the right hon. Gentleman spoke of the Act as "a genuine form of devolution for Scotland"—always emphasising the words "for Scotland". Fine—but what about England? What about Scotland's relationship to England and to the rest of the United Kingdom? We still heard not a word on that—because it is very difficult for Labour Members to say anything about that following the exposition of the unanswerable West Lothian question by their hon. Friend That is the albatross which has been around the neck of this Act throughout, and it is that which has eventually dragged it down into the sea.
The right hon. Gentleman also complained that the suggested Scottish Select Committee would involve no transfer of powers. But surely that was the very problem—the discriminatory transfer of powers within the United Kingdom proposed in this Act.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Farnham (Mr. Macmillan) talked about the word "devolution" itself and the wide variety of meanings which have been attached to it in our debates, including today's. I can understand that in a Scottish constituency the word might have a favourable ring. It suggests that people are to have something which hitherto they had not. But after all our debates, devolution has become for me a dirty word, if only because it is given so many meanings.
If we are to equate the word with this Act, which is awaiting burial, we must understand it to mean that one part of the United Kingdom can be treated as if it were part of a federal structure, while the rest is treated as a unitary State. To any purist, that must be a corruption of the word "devolution".
The word is now so imprecise that it might be more honest to drop it altogether. By all means, let those, such as the Liberals, who believe in a Federal solution argue it. I do not happen to share their belief, but it is an intellectually respectable and credible argument. By all means, as hon. Members on both sides have argued, let us press for greater decentralisation. I do not think that government has taken an acceptable form over recent years in the rest of the United Kingdom, any more than it has in Scotland. I would certainly endorse any call to shift some decision-making from Whitehall nearer to a local level—in Scotland, in England, in Wales, and, very pertinently, in Northern Ireland, too.
The hon. Gentleman basically seems to be arguing that it would be wrong to have what he calls differential devolution—in other words, in Scotland only, when there was no comparable devolution to any other part of the United Kingdom. On a theoretical question, then—part of this matter is theoretical—what would be his reaction had there been clear evidence of a desire in Scotland for a legislative Assembly of some kind, yet no comparable evidence in any other part of the United Kingdom? Would he do nothing? What would he do?
The hon. Gentleman is asking a theoretical question, and I am happy to answer that one. As an English Member, and holding the views that I do, I have to say that if the referendum in Scotland had produced a substantial "Yes" majority I should not have been able to support the legislation. I should have abstained, probably, rather than voted against it, but as a representative of my constituents I could not have taken any responsibility for it.
This debate marks the end of a discreditable period in our political history. My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Ancram), and others have remarked on the most dishonourable conception of this Act. It was born of a quick calculation of party advantage. It was not preceded or backed up by any deep inquiry or thorough investigation within the party that made the proposal. The investigation came later, after the commitment had been made, and it was then that all the problems began to come to light.
Nevertheless, looking back over our debates in the House over the past two years and more, I believe that some very creditable features are to be seen. The first is that the House of Commons, despite great party pressures and despite some ruthless whipping, in the end asserted its judgment on a constitutional matter. A considerable Cross-Bench understanding was established on several important areas of the legislation. The 40 per cent. provision has been mentioned—I shall mention it again in a moment—and that is one example of a proposition which came up from the Back Benches on both sides. It certainly was not embraced by the Government Front Bench at that time, and those who were here then will recall that not much enthusiasm for it was shown on our Front Bench, either. Nevertheless, it was the collective view and decision of the House of Commons that that provision should be written in, and I believe that that reflects great credit upon the House as an institution.
Moreover, looking back over the progress of the legislation as it went its tortuous way, with guillotines and substantial parts of it passing without discussion, I believe that in the process the House of Commons started to evolve some ground rules for procedures that should be followed whenever constitutional changes are proposed. It was the House of Commons that collectively forced the then Government to concede a referendum in the first place, and, as I have said, it was the House that later built in the 40 per cent. provision.
I believe that that experience will be of considerable significance from this point on. When the national referendum procedure was first introduced in this country by the Labour Government, it was argued that it would be a once-and-for-all exercise, but, as my right hon. Friend the present Prime Minister then argued, once one has introduced the referendum one will find that uses will be found for it in other situations. And so it turned out in the context of the devolution issue.
Now that we have had a referendum to approve, albeit retrospectively, the constitutional change involved in our joining the European Community, and now that we have had referendums in Scotland and Wales on constitutional proposals affecting all parts of the United Kingdom, I believe that it will be difficult for a future Government to refuse a referendum on any significant constitutional proposals that they bring forward.
Moreover, for the reasons advanced by the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury in the last Parliament, I hope that, when that happens, it will be judged relevant also to retain the 40 per cent. hurdle. The right hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) scoffs at that, but that rule has set a precedent that cannot lightly be ignored by any future Government proposing constitutional changes.
The devolution debate over the past two years has been a sorry saga. It was based on commitments made in haste without any proper deep thought for the implications. Heaven knows that those two years could have been spent on more constructive measures.
Those two years may not have been entirely wasted. First, it has been established that it is unwise for any Government to attempt constitutional change on a narrow party basis. It is always wise to seek cross-party support, and to let the House have its head in discussing such matters.
Secondy, in this process we have established some ground rules covering the future use of the referendum mechanism. And thirdly, that discussion has served to reveal the full implications of the easy solutions that were so easily slipped into Scottish party manifestos.
So it need not be with total sorrow that we consign the Act to the grave that it deserves.
I begin by quoting from a manifesto:
A recurring theme in our programme is the need to recognise that people want more freedom and more control over their own lives. This is what has shaped our policies for Scotland and Wales. In Scotland we will set up a Scottish Assembly; give the Secretary of State for Scotland, acting with the Scottish Assembly, the power to decide how to spend Scotland's share of the UK budget".
That was not the Labour Party manifesto, the Liberal Party manifesto or the SNP manifesto. It was the Tory Party manifesto of October 1974, the same manifesto on which the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat) and the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Gardiner) were elected to this House less than five years ago. The hon. Member for Reigate talks about coming to the end of a discreditable period in our political history. Perhaps he is speaking for himself and his own party.
The repeal order and the manifesto pledge given to Scotland less than five years ago indicate the extent to which the Conservative Party has reneged on its promises to the people of Scotland.
Will the hon. Gentleman clarify a point of detail? He has spoken of the manifesto on which I was elected the Member for Reigate. Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that he is reading from the Conservative Party manifesto for Scotland, or is he referring to the overall manifesto?
The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point. The Conservative Party is so two-faced that it published two manifestos, one for Scotland and one for England and Wales. There may even have been a separate manifesto for Wales. The Conservative Party believes in devolution during an election campaign, but once safely elected it forgets all about it. For the record, my quotation came from the British manifesto of the Conservative Party in October 1974.
Would the hon. Gentleman care to quote from the Labour Party manifesto of October 1974 and detail the pledges that were given to set up Assemblies with economic power in the forthcoming Parliament? Would he compare them with what happened?
A manifesto commitment was made by the Labour Party in October 1974. We tried our best to implement that manifesto pledge. That is why the Scotland Act reached the statute book. That is why it remains on the statute book—although perhaps only for a few more hours. The members of the Labour Party tried to fulfil their promise to the people of Scotland, whereas the members of the Conservative Party reneged completely on their promise. I remember in the previous Parliament the hundreds of hours that we spent debating first the ill-fated Scotland and Wales Bill and then the Scotland Bill, which eventually became the Scotland Act by a majority of 40 on Third Reading. I remember all the time we spent at the pre-legislative stage debating White Papers and the like. Not once do I remember the members of the Tory Party coming out with any constructive alternative to the Scotland Act. They floated hare-brained schemes. I remember the now deposed Ayatollah of Cathcart, Mr. Teddy Taylor, proposing a scheme for an indirectly elected Chamber consisting of representatives of the regional councils—a kind of super-COSLA. That idea lasted for a few weeks before it was conveniently swept under the carpet. There was then an even crazier scheme.
Is the hon. Gentleman correct in saying that the former hon. Member for Cathcart made the declaration about an indirectly elected Assembly? Does he not mean the hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns (Mr. Buchanan-Smith)?
I distinctly remember participating in a Radio Clyde programme with the former hon. Member for Cathcart when he made that proposal. He repeated it on more than one occasion. It never lasted because it could not stand up to the light of reason.
Then we heard of an even more harebrained scheme proposed by the members of the Tory Party. They proposed to introduce legislation in this place which would go to an Edinburgh Assembly for Second Reading and possibly a Committee stage, and then return to this House for Report and Third Reading. Has anyone ever heard of such constitutional nonsense and a recipe for conflict? It was no wonder that even the Shadow Cabinet at that time soon swept that proposal out of the road.
Then there was the usual Tory final solution. The right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) said "Let us scrap the whole thing and have discussions; let us get round the table and have another round of talks." Recently, the Tories have come up with three or four options in a discussion paper. We may call them a cocktail cabinet of "Pym's" No. 1, No. 2, No. 3 and No. 4, each more heady and intoxicating than the last, but none meeting the aspirations of the people of Scotland.
The Tories want to turn back the clock to the pre-Kilbrandon stage and virtually defend the status quo. If they were honest, they would admit this. They are completely bereft of any policy on devolution. There are one or two honourable exceptions. I am glad that the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. McQuarrie) mentioned the hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns (Mr. Buchanan-Smith). Last year at the Scottish Tory Party conference in Perth he said:
In the Conservative Party we have led the people of Scotland up the hill—do not let us lead them down again … the alternative to the Bill is nothing.
That is the truth of the matter. The hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns is one of the few honest Tories sitting on the Government Benches. We saw his reward. He got the sack from his job as Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland. If he had reneged on his commitment in the same way as the other turncoats on the Government Benches have reneged on their commitment, he might have been sitting there as Secretary of State for Scotland today. Instead the Prime Minister shifted him. He is now the Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.
It appears that the hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns is too honest and too humane to look after the interests of the people of Scotland, so the Prime Minister has put him in charge of animals and fish in England. That is the logic behind that appointment. During the devolution campaign the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind) urged people to vote "Yes". He did not do it too strenuously, of course, because he also was possibly worried about his job in the Scottish Office after the general election.
The hon. Member for Pentlands was not the only other person who did so. There were others. For example, there was also the noble lord, Lord Boyle, a former Minister in the Tory Government, who went up to Scotland and said:
Ever since I was a Minister I have believed it made sense to provide for a more democratic accountability for those services such as education which have already been devolved administratively for a long time.
There was also the noble lord, Lord Home, who has been quoted by other hon. Members. He urged people to vote "No" in the referendum because he did not think that the devolution proposals went far enough. He asked the people of Scotland to vote "No" in order to improve the Scotland Act. He came forward with various suggestions about improving the Act and outlined various faults. He said that in his opinion the Assembly was too large and that there was insufficient opportunity for pre-legislative scrutiny of the vires of a Bill that could go before the Assembly. He also said that the Assembly should have revenue raising powers. Frankly, I agree with some of those points, but they are all points that could be met through amendments to the legislation, namely, the Scotland Act, which is here on the statute book.
Lord Home also frequently mentioned the West Lothian question. We saw an example, I suppose, last night, when we, representing Scottish constituencies, voted against an education Bill which affects not our constituencies but those of England and Wales. It was argued whether we should have that right whereas there would be no reciprocal right for Members representing English constituencies to vote for or against a Scottish education Bill because that would be an Assembly-devolved matter.
I admit that that is an anomaly, but it is not the absolute anomaly that it is sometimes made out to be. Under the terms of the Scotland Act at least in theory it would still have been possible for this place to legislate on any devolved matter—housing, education or anything else. This place still retained the sovereignty of Parliament. Although in theory this House would have had that power, in practice we hoped that it would not interfere on devolved matters.
In my opinion the only logical solution to the West Lothian question is a federal or—as it is sometimes said—a quasi-federal solution, which would give Members of this place equal rights and Members of the devolved Parliaments or Assemblies equal rights, as regards voting.
There are anomalies in any constitution. There are many anomalies also in the status quo. The biggest anomaly of all in the present Parliament is the other place along the corridor where one can inherit a voice and a vote in Parliament simply because one happens to have been born in the right bed.
Looking at the relationship between this place and various parts of the United Kingdom, we see that the biggest anomaly of the lot is that there is a different legal system in Scotland and different Bills are needed for Scotland in regard to matters such as housing, health and education. Yet those Bills must go through the same legislature. Therefore, although there are different legal systems, share oth the one legislature, which affects the timetabling difficulties, and so on, of this House.
We have an anomaly at present whereby Scottish Committees, either the Standing Committee or Scottish Grand Committee, do not reflect the balance of the elected Members in Scotland. Rather, it is a rule of this place that they must reflect the balance of parties in the House as a whole. Therefore, as a result, one gets Tories from English constituencies being whipped into the Scottish Grand Committee just to make up the numbers. That is an anomaly.
Then there is an anomaly in the present system whereby we have administrative and executive devolution through the Scottish Office, and yet we do not have legislative devolution or enough legislative scrutiny and accountability over the matters which are already devolved at administrative level through the Scottish Office.
Therefore, at the last general election we had the anomaly whereby 44 out of the 71 Scottish constituencies returned Labour Members of Parliament to this place, and yet even on the devolved matters, such as housing, health and education, we are completely ruled and dominated by the Iron Lady in Downing Street and her Tin Man in St. Andrew's House. This is causing a great deal of justifiable resentment among the people of Scotland.
Might not my hon. Friend extend that argument further and say that there is equal resentment in the north of England, which returned a majority of Labour Members, yet the north of England is to be ruled by, as my hon. Friend describes them, the Iron Lady and the Tin Man? My hon. Friend ought to beware of developing this point too far, because it is a separatist argument.
It is not a separatist argument at all. It is an argument for devolution. I specifically mentioned the matters which are already devolved to the Scottish Office. There is no such thing as a north of England equivalent of the Scottish Office, or of the Tin Man at St. Andrew's House. The north of England does not have that. It has a variety of Tin Men down here who tell the people in the north of England what to do through the various Government Departments.
I should have every sympathy with the people of the north of England if they started clamouring for some form of devolution, because it is most unfair that, for a long period, people in certain areas of the United Kingdom have returned a contingent of Members of Parliament of one political complexion, and yet, becouse of the overcentralised structure of government, they cannot have any say at all in the running of their own affairs, even on the subjects which were proposed to be devolved under the Act.
I should like to tell the Secretary of State of an example that arose today. He has laid an order before the House to allow the SNP-controlled Kilsyth and Cumbernauld district council to raise rents by 40 per cent. He did not even have the courtesy to tell me that he was laying the order, although it will be a savage attack on my constituents' living standards. I should like to tell the people of Kilsyth, Queenzieburn, Kelvin-head and Banton that if we had had a Scottish Assembly, it would have had power over housing and we would have been able to give them some protection regarding rents and other devolved matters. Yet, instead, we are being ruled completely by the iron fist from Whitehall and St. Andrew's House, with the Tory Government collaborating with the SNP on that notorious Kilsyth and Cumbernauld District Council.
I have tabled a prayer against that order. Although we do not have a Scottish Assembly yet, I shall be using all the machinery that I can use in this place in order to stop that disgraceful and unwarranted attack on the living-standards of council tenants in my constituency.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. What I am going to say will be something of an anticlimax after his latter remarks.
If the hon. Gentleman is so worried about democracy, he really should give some attention to electoral reform.
I do not know about that, because we never had all these arguments from the Liberals when they were in government. They never came out in favour of proportional representation then. Now they are favouring PR, saying that it will lead to nice, middle-of-the-road moderates and so on. It is interesting to note that in the European elections, the only bit of the United Kingdom which had PR was Northern Ireland—and who came top of the poll? It was that well-known moderate, the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley). I think that that disproves the Liberal argument about PR.
I am not so sure about that. The fact that the hon. Member for Antrim, North came top of the poll means that there is something wrong with the Liberal argument.
Rents in Kilsyth, the sale of council houses and the return of privilege in the education or Health Service for those who can afford it would all have been devolved to the Scottish Assembly. The Secretary of State may argue that he has a mandate to implement the Tory policies that the people of Scotland do not want, but he is treading on dangerous territory.
The hon. Member for Aberdeen, South asked how we could implement the Scotland Act when two-thirds of the people of Scotland did not vote for it or voted against it. Two-thirds of the electorate of the United Kingdom voted against this Government or at least did not vote for them. They only have the support of 33 per cent. of the electorate in the United Kingdom. As my right hon. Friend, the previous Secretary of State for Scotland, said, only 23 per cent. of the electorate of Scotland voted Tory at the last general election. The repeal of the Scotland Act is probably the first time in the history of British democracy that the wishes of a majority in voting on a particular issue are being flouted.
However the figures are jumbled—whether it is 33 per cent. or under 40 per cent.—the difference between the "Yes" and "No" vote was only 2 per cent. or, as a percentage of those who voted, 52 per cent. against 48 per cent. The truth is that the "Yes" votes won the referendum. The result was perhaps not as convincing and decisive as I should have liked. Nevertheless, the majority of those who voted did so in favour of the implementation of the Scotland Act, and that was despite the campaign against us.
The propaganda of the "Scotland Says No" campaign was well financed. The hon. Member for Renfrewshire, East (Mr. Stewart)—the hon. Member for the CBI—admitted that certain business interests in Scotland were contributing to that campaign. He denied that the CBI as an institution was putting money into that campaign. But many member companies were.
There was also scaremongering such as the separatist smear. It was said that to vote "Yes" in the referendum was to vote for separation. The SNP did not do us much good during the campaign. It said that it would like to use the Assembly as a stepping stone to complete separation. That was counter-productive and did a disservice to the "Yes" campaign. Despite that, and despite the double dealing and treachery when members of our own party used court action to silence their party's voice in a television programme and the collaboration with the Tories, the majority of the people who voted voted "Yes".
It was quite obvious early in the referendum campaign that the Tories were trying to use that campaign not just to get a "No" vote, but to defeat the Labour Government. It was a pity that some of their collaborators came from our own side of the House. They did not see through the plot and fell into the trap. We all saw the result in the Labour Government's consequent defeat in the House of Commons and then in the general election.
I respect greatly the passion and sincerity with which my hon. Friend the Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan) expounds the cause of devolution. When he has made previous attacks of this kind, I have been friendly and I have let them go. However, if he makes charges about collaboration, it could be said that he and some of his hon. Friends who actively supported the devolution cause were collaborating with the SNP. I am sure that he would deny that. However, if these discussions about devolution are to go forward, I trust that they will occur in a reasonable spirit. I hope that my hon. Friend will take care in his use of language. I feel just as deeply and strongly about the Scottish people as he does, and it does him and the Labour party no credit to use that kind of language.
I cannot speak for every hon. Member who was a Labour spokesman during the referendum campaign, but I can assure the House that at no time did I share a platform with any member of the SNP.
My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) can speak for himself, but there were other Labour Members who shared platforms with Tories during the referendum, including at least one who came to my constituency and did not have the courtesy to inform me. That is disloyalty.
Will my hon. Friend the Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan) accept that there are within the Labour Party, as within all sections of Scottish society, very deeply held and genuine differences of opinion? The campaign that most of us fought was about devolution and its merits and demerits. I shared a platform with the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind), who is now the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, as we were both advocating a "Yes" vote in the referendum. I am certainly not ashamed of that, and I do not suppose that the hon. Member is ashamed of it, even though he appears to have changed his mind since then. Given the depth of feelings about this issue, it is totally counter-productive for the hon. Member for West Stirlingshire to throw around these accusations.
I accept that some hon. Members may disagree with party policy. A few weeks after the referendum campaign, the Labour Party manifesto was published and 634 candidates stood on that manifesto which said clearly:
We reaffirm our commitment to devolution for Scotland. We are therefore ready to discuss constructively with all concerned any changes which would make the scheme in the present Act more widely acceptable, so that we can establish a Scottish Assembly.
I cannot remember any single member of the present parliamentary Labour Party, including the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) and the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer), who gave any public disclaimer to that manifesto commitment during the general election campaign.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for that explanation, but I do not recall him giving that any publicity, as he did his stance at an earlier stage during the referendum campaign.
I conclude by saying that the proper way to proceed is laid down in the 1979 Labour Party manifesto. We should have constructive talks with all interested parties to try to achieve a wider acceptance of the provisions in the Scotland Act. If this Act is repealed tonight, I believe that there will be no chance of any meaningful discussions. The discussions will take place in a vacuum.
If the Government go ahead and repeal the Scotland Act, they will kill the Scotland Act but they will not kill the debate on devolution. They will not kill the need and the desire for a far more democratic, more efficient, better and more accountable system of government for the people of Scotland and people elsewhere in the United Kingdom.
As I was saying when I was rudely interrupted by the vagaries of the democratic process—and despite the manifesto of October 1974, to which the hon. Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan) referred—the people of Scotland are not satisfied with the method and control of government in Scotland. That was my view then, and it is still my view, despite all the water that has gone under the bridge in the past five years, and despite the fact that the Scottish Office is now run by a very much better bunch of people than it was a short time ago.
Despite any rumours to the contrary, I was neither dead nor in the wilderness during the last five years. I was alive and well and living in East Fife, where I had great pleasure in working with, or should I say standing in the shadow of, Sir John Gilmour, my predecessor in the constituency.
As the House knows, Sir John represented the constituents of East Fife for 18 years with great distinction. He was thought of affectionately and with the same respect in East Fife as he was in this House. He continues to take an interest in Fife affairs and on the wider stage. The House may be interested to know that he has recently become chairman of the Commonwealth Agricultural Association and will be travelling to Australia and New Zealand in September to carry out functions in that context. Obviously, he is a very active retired Member indeed.
There have been considerable changes in East Fife in the past 18 years, but the essential characteristic of the constituency remains. It is essentially a rural area where the economic backbone is farming and fishing, with important centres of industry and commerce. It is a constituency where tourism, services and small business in general play a very important part. It also contains the home of golf and Scotland's oldest university of St. Andrews. In short, I am proud to follow Sir John Gilmour in representing East Fife, which exemplifies so much of what is best in Scotland.
In an admirable maiden speech, my hon. Friend the Member for Galloway (Mr. Lang) referred to the Tory record on devolution. That caused some incredulity on the Opposition benches, which was surprising because of the solid achievements, rather than the pious postulations which have characterised the Opposition's approach to devolution.
In the past five years I have assisted my hon. Friend the Member for Galloway in writing a pamphlet called "The Scottish Conservatives—past and future". [HON. MEMBERS: "Which is which?"] To mention a point in the past, it is a fact that the Scottish Conservatives have achieved something which the Labour Party has never done—and that is to win more than half the Scottish votes, and in future, not far from now, they will probably do so again. We emphasise that Scottish Conservatives were Scots before they were Conservatives. I hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends will not be humble and that they will speak for the people of Scotland with all the strength and ability which they can exercise.
The most precise comment that can be made about the Scotland Act is that it was not accepted by the Scottish people. That point was particularly well made in the first part of the speech by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar). It is a pity that the second part of his speech did not match up to that standard. The 40 per cent. rule turned out to be a red herring. I have strong reason to believe that, without that rule, the result would not have been a marginal "Yes" from those who voted but would have been an outright rejection of the Scotland Act and the referendum. I could produce half a dozen electors from my constituency for each Labour Member who is present who would say that they had been persuaded by some Labour Members that a "No" vote was the same as staying at home.
However, as the Scotland Act was not accepted by the people of Scotland—that is why it is right that it should be put to bed tonight—the onus is upon the politicians to produce better proposals. I believe that was also what the Scottish people were saying at the referendum. Therefore, it is right to kill the Bill. None the less, a dissatisfaction remains with the way in which we are governed.
I was glad to hear that the Secretary of State and the Leader of the House had initiated action to get the all-party talks under way, including the procedures that the talks will be based upon. I hope that all shades of opinion within the parties will be given an opportunity to be heard during the course of the talks.
I believe that Conservative Members will be united in interring the remains of the Scotland Act, because it is principally founded on its divisiveness and bureaucratic character and because its most effective advocates were the Scottish nationalists, who were seen to be out for separation at the end of the day. Perhaps the Act was not helped by the hon. Member for West Stirlingshire.
Many Conservative Members hope that the Government will take a vigorous lead in the all-party talks and that they will not be passive or obstructive in any way—I am sure that they will not be. If the talks take some time to reach total fruition I hope that the Government will introduce interim proposals for action as soon as possible.
Finally, I ask the Secretary of State and his colleagues to press vigorously for changes in the way in which this House works. Whatever happens in the all-party talks we will then be able to help to ensure that Scotland's interests are better represented in the future than they have been in the past.
A great deal has been said about the debate being a funeral. The glee with which Conservative Members have greeted the funeral and attended it is not in their tradition of decorum at funerals.
There are various prerequisites for a funeral. The main requirement is a dead body. It is not possible to have a funeral without a dead body. If the body is still alive and one deliberately kills it so that there can be a funeral, that is an act of murder. A relative of mine was suspended from the House for calling the Tories murderers, and I shall therefore not repeat the allegation. But that is what they are doing.
The important thing about the order is not that it is being laid, but when it is being laid. The Scotland Act is still alive because the vote in Scotland was "Yes". I agree that it was not a satisfactory vote and was not sufficient and we have heard a great deal about how two-thirds of the electorate in Scotland did not support the Act. I accept that, but the "Yes" majority should keep the Bill alive at least until the talks have been completed.
By laying the order before the talks have taken place, the Government have killed devolution and stated firmly that not only do they disagree with the Scotland Act but they are opposed to the principle of devolution.
Another reason why I think the Bill is still alive is that I do not completely accept the argument that one-third of the electorate who did not vote in the referendum stayed at home because those voters thought that that was a "No" vote. I was in my constituency campaigning for a "Yes" vote on the day of the referendum. I was standing outside schools as electors went in to vote and I know that in the solid Labour area of Castle Milk the vote up to 5 p.m. was as high as in a general election and was largely a "Yes" vote. At 5 p.m. the rain came, a gale started to blow and the voters did not turn out.
Then it could not have been raining in the East.
My election to the House also proves that the Act is still alive. There has been much talk from Conservative Members claiming that they won their seats because devolution was no longer an issue among the Scottish people, but one of the reasons why Teddy Taylor lost his seat to me was that he was one of the arch anti-devolutionists in Scotland. He also lost because of his two-faced attitude to devolution. He changed his mind four times. He stood at one election on an address that promised an Assembly with financial powers. He then reneged on that and went on to the "No" side. Then he went back to the "Yes" side and ended up at the last election back on the "No" side. That is why he lost.
We have heard time and again in the debate that it is not possible to have devolution for Scotland unless we have devolution for the rest of the United Kingdom. The Tories have made clear that they are opposed to devolution, but the fact is that we already have it. We have massive devolution in Scotland already. The Government prove it by their structure. We have devolved administration in Scotland. If we have that, surely the logic of the argument we have heard from hon. Members opposite is that they should now devolve administratively throughout the rest of the United Kingdom or—and this would be much more in line with their logic—abolish the Scottish Office, the separate Scottish education system and the separate Scottish legal system and centralise them into Whitehall in the relevant English departments.
But, of course, the Government will not do that. Yet that would be the honest course, and it would be logical. We know that honesty comes rather hard to the Conservatives. In fact, we know from the last three weeks that logic is quite beyond them. But that would be the honest, logical position of the case that they have now put. I think that they should abolish the Scottish Office because, as a democrat, I cannot accept the continued existence of the administrative devolution of the Scottish Office without proper democratic control. The Government are not prepared to offer that, and therefore, logically, they should now say that they are not interested in devolution and that we should do away with separate Scottish powers completely.
I make an appeal to those hon. Members opposite and to those of my hon. Friends who have been opposed to the Act to vote against this order tonight because I believe that until we have talks the Act should remain on the statute book. I see nothing illogical in those of my hon. Friends who oppose the Act now saying "At least leave it there until we have had talks." I see no objection to their voting with me on that issue tonight.
I also appeal to those hon. Members opposite who, quite honourably, for many years have been pro-devolution. I ask them now to stick to their beliefs and vote against the order. That would be the logical and sensible thing to do—to keep the Act alive at least until we have had talks.
It is clear, as the debate begins to draw to a close, that one of the problems of discussing a topic such as the Scotland Act is that it inevitably makes clear that so many hon. Members have so many views on the whole question of devolution. It is rather as though the House had set aside a day to discuss sin, because we could be arguing in so many ways long into the night. There are hon. Members on the Government Benches who will gladly vote to repeal the Act, whose parentage we regard as totally suspect, in the hope that the Government will be able to move swiftly to a position of having worthwhile discussions with the other parties on the lines that they have outlined. What we must understand is that it is perfectly honourable to be against the Act but still to favour the concept of devolution.
For those of us who believe in trying to achieve the better government of Scotland, I say to the Government that they must have a wholehearted commitment now not merely to talk but to ensure that the talks lead as speedily as possible to a constructive and worthwhile programme of constitutional reform affecting Scotland. I believe that the Government are on trial for their good faith with the electorate of Scotland, and as an earnest of that good faith I urge the Minister to give us even firmer assurances about the future role of any Select Committe on Scottish affairs
Last week the Leader of the Opposition said that the devolution issue was quiescent. I have the dubious advantage of being better informed than he in gauging current electoral feeling on that matter north of the border since I came to the House by defeating a member of the Scottish Nationalist Party who soon after secured a place for herself in the European Parliament.
The Scottish electorate, at this time of constitutional anxiety, is volatile. We ignore at our peril latent feelings of what Montrose called the sleepless nationalism of the people. Unless we take those deeply felt feelings seriously, frustration will be fuelled into misguided political action. I want to avoid that danger.
In that spirit, I urge the Government to repeal the Act and thereafter conduct the talks as quickly as possible, so that real changes result to benefit the people of Scotland.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, East (Mr. Henderson) on his maiden speech. He succeeded Sir John Gilmour, who was greatly respected in the House. The hon. Member shows those qualities which made Sir John such a respected figure in the House. We look forward to his future contributions to our debates.
I was tempted to refer to the speech made by the hon. Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan), but I do not wish to intrude into the private grief of the Labour Party.
I was one of the English Members who took part regularly in the debates on the Scotland Bill. I pay tribute to hon. Members on both sides who insisted upon pointing out the weaknesses and pitfalls in the Bill.
The repeal of the Scotland Act 1978 is a fitting end to the sorry tale of attempted devolution. The people in the United Kingdom were opposed to it. The House never liked it and, in the referendum, the Scottish people gave it only a bare majority. It would not have attracted that majority without the massive campaign to make people believe that not to vote was equivalent to a "No" vote.
The fundamental weakness of the Act was the virtual impossibility of having another Parliament in a unitary State with a sovereign Parliament in Westminster. The authors of the Act pretended originally that it applied only to Scotland. But, as the debates continued day after day, it became apparent that the Act had repercussions throughout the United Kingdom. People soon began to see the threat to the unity of the United Kingdom.
The House was right to insist upon 40 per cent. of the electorate approving the Act, in view of the fundamental constitutional issues involved. I hope that once the order is passed there will be a long period of reconsideration before further proposals for devolution are introduced.
I still doubt whether there is a strong wish for devolution in all parts of Scotland. I have no doubt that various minor alterations in constitutional practice can be made without harm. Perhaps the Scottish Grand Committee, for example, should meet alternately in London and Edinburgh. I am sure also that if Her Majesty the Queen could be advised to spend a little longer each year in Holy-rood House it would be no bad thing. Edinburgh could then perhaps be regarded as more of a capital city than it is at the moment. I believe that the issue is as much emotional as one of hard practical common sense.
Another step which could be taken would be for Her Majesty to receive, from time to time, foreign royalty in Edinburgh instead of in London—[Laughter.] I do not understand why hon. Members laugh. Some may remember that the King of Norway was received in that way and, when the Household Cavalry rode down Princes Street, I did not see many Scotsmen smirking as I do here.
I was sorry that we had a referendum at all. Each time we have a referendum we weaken Parliament. However, in this case the referendum proved to be a safeguard for the constitution and a blessing in disguise. Without the referendum provision the Bill would never have been passed by this House.
In the end the Scottish National Party, now reduced to a rump, came out of the contest extremely badly, and it was decimated, as we all know, in the general election. The Labour Party, which also came out badly, started devolution in order to save seats but in the end it was the cause of its downfall. Therefore, I hope that the House will swiftly and decisively pass this order so that we may move on to matters much more vital than the question of devolution to Scotland.
As a postscript, I ask what is to happen to the building which was so expensively converted in Edinburgh for use by the Assembly. Will there be a surcharge on the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Foot) and on his colleague the previous Secretary of State for Scotland for their part in this folly, or will the building be left as it is as a monument to their pride, misjudgment and folly?
I speak as an English Member. English Members, and the people of England, have been extraordinarily patient over the last year with our Scottish colleagues who wanted special terms for Scotland within the United Kingdom. Certainly in the West Midlands, where so much work and so many jobs have been taken away from us to Scotland in order to buy votes, we feel that favouritism to Scotland has gone far enough. English people who are very quiet about themselves, and seldom raise their voices in this Chamber about England, nevertheless comprise four-fifths of the population of the United Kingdom. They are heartily sick and fed up with the Scotland Act and will be glad to see its demise.
I am trying with great difficulty to follow the logic of the hon. Member. Is he suggesting that the Royal High School would make a suitable hostel for deposed royalty from foreign countries? Does he really think it would be a suitable home for the Shah of Persia or the Emperor Bokassa, or someone like that?
I hardly think that that intervention is worth replying to, but if the Shah of Persia were to ask for political asylum in the United Kingdom I hope that he would be as welcome in Scotland as he would be in England.
Hon Members have wasted too much time on this dangerous and offensive legislation. The problems facing the United Kingdom, and those facing Scotland in particular, are much more serious than whether or not there is some change in our system of Government. The problem for Scotland, as for the rest of the United Kingdom, is how to make our living in today's competitive world. Our problem is how to compete with the French, the Germans, the Japanese and the Americans and how to produce more and create more wealth. I am glad that the Prime Minister is concentrating on these important matters and putting the Scotland Act at the bottom of the list, where it belongs.
First, I pay tribute to my hon. Friends the Members for Renfrewshire, East (Mr. Stewart), Galloway (Mr. Lang) and Fife, East (Mr. Henderson) on their maiden speeches. They made useful contributions, and I am sure that the House will hear more from them.
We have heard of a newspaper which hon. Members say had considerable impact on the referendum. The headline quoted was—"Enough is not enough". This newspaper, the Daily Record of 3 March 1979, also said:
Let us all admit: when a third of the country votes one way, 31 per cent. the other way and 36 per cent. do not vote at all, this is no great mandate for action on THIS Act.
That is why we are here today, finally winding up the Act.
Hon Members on both sides should welcome the Prime Ministers decision, announced in a written answer to me today, that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster will approach all the parties with seats in Scotland with a view to setting up all-party talks. We gave that commitment in our manifesto. The talks must be established on the assumption not that they will be useless, as some Labour Members have said, but that they will help to satisfy the desires of the people of Scotland.
It was in a wish for devolution of some sort that the people rose up in 1964 and elected 11 SNP Members. That shows the absolute need for a form of devolution.
The Scotland Act is a bad Act. It was brought in in panic to oppose the separatist nationalists. The result of the referendum was therefore a clear decision by the people of Scotland to have nothing to do with that Act. Not the 33 per cent. but the 36 per cent. is the most important figure.
The hon. Member need not wave his head away. It was his party that, throughout the campaign, issued a paper to almost every constituency in Scotland, saying in effect "If you do not vote it is a 'No' vote." The people of Scotland took note of that and today we see the tally of two SNP Members.
If the Labour Party in Dundee, East had used its head and not chosen an ex-Communist as its candidate, the party would have one more Member to vote tonight. The hon. Gentleman should remember that.
Incidentally, I am glad that the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Foulkes) did not include me in his list of seven hon. Members who should be looking over their shoulders.
This has been a bad Act. People all over Scotland have been arguing with each other without knowing what was going on. I cannot agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Ancram) that the people of Scotland were aware. They were not aware of the Act at all. Even the question put to the people in the referendum was only whether they wished the provisions of the Act to be put into effect. They were not aware of what it was all about. Although the newspapers and the media endeavoured to give some indication, it was totally foreign to them. That is why people did not go out and vote, and they had been conned by the SNP into thinking that if they did not vote it would be taken as a "No" vote. Otherwise, there would have been a clear and decisive "No" in the referendum.
That is the reason why we are here tonight finally to wind this matter up and dispose of the Act. It must go tonight. Taking the percentage of votes registered in every constituency in Scotland, we found six regions voting "No" and six voting "Yes". In no way was it a decisive vote, and neither could it have been in the circumstances.
I hope that the Minister will tell us tonight that we are to have positive talks on devolution of some sort in Scotland. Hon. Members on the Opposition Benches have said that the Tory Party has no guts for devolution. There are Members on these Benches who want to see the people of Scotland getting proper treatment from the Government, from the House of Commons and all its Members. Only through all-party talks shall we get that. We have torn ourselves apart for 10 years. Why should we continue to tear ourselves apart?
I make an appeal to hon. Members on both sides. When we reach the stage of entering into talks, let us enter them in a spirit of looking for a solution, not wanting to continue the battle which has gone on over the past 10 years. I hope that hon. Members on both sides will go into all-party talks on that basis, and I hope also that the Minister will tonight give us a clear indication of when it is expected that the talks will take place.
First, I must apologise to the House for not being present throughout the whole debate. Unfortunately, I had to leave for a time, and I understand that while I was absent there were excellent maiden speeches by the hon. Members for Renfrewshire, East (Mr. Stewart) and for Galloway (Mr. Lang). It would be thoroughly insincere if I were to say that I am looking forward to hearing them again when I have not heard them speak in the first place. In fact, I present an absolutely open mind to the speeches which they delivered. Indeed, that may add to the eagerness which I may feel in wishing to hear them on future occasions. But from all the accounts that I have heard I gather that they were excellent speeches. I congratulate the hon. Members, and I apologise afresh for having been absent from the Chamber at that time.
I turn now to what the Secretary of State for Scotland said in his opening speech. I hope that my remarks will be brief enough altogether, but I wish to explore what he said on the subject of the talks between representatives of the various parties which the Government propose. I do not imagine that anyone would have been entirely clear, after the right hon. Gentleman sat down, precisely what agenda he was suggesting. I think that it would be a most exaggerated compliment if anyone were to stray as far as that.
However, I heard the right hon. Gentleman make some comments on each of the proposals which he and his party had put forward for the agenda of some previous all-party talks, and, so far as I could gather from what he said, he did not think much of any of those I think that that was the strongest part of the right hon. Gentleman's speech He poured scorn—or, if that be too strong a word, he at least passed some reflection, if I may so put it—on the four so-called viable alternatives which had figured in the Conservative Party's previous policy on this matter.
The right hon. Gentleman left us with the impression that when we came to the discussions those four items would not be among those which the Government would be backing most strongly. He did not rule them out altogether, however, and I gather that I have understood what he said in that respect. Apparently those four items are to be on the agenda of the all-party talks, if the talks ever take place. There were one or two casual asides about other items that might possibly figure in the enthralling talks to which some of us will be invited, even though the invitations may have gone astray so far.
The right hon. Gentleman spoke of items that would not appear on the agenda. That led us to the matter before the House. We are faced with a paradox. We are invited to attend talks on a subject that is of considerable importance to the future of the United Kingdom. It is suggested, without much enthusiasm, that we might consider some of the amorphous proposals that have figured in previous Conservative White Papers.
One item is apparently to be excluded from the agenda. It is not to be discussed. It is the only one to be excluded The agenda is open as wide as the ocean for everything else. However, that is the one item for which the majority of Scottish people voted who cast a vote in the referendum. According to the Government, it is the one proposition that will not figure in the talks. That is a most extraordinary state, of affairs.
I know that there are some Members on both sides of the House who have been critical of the Scotland Act. I am not disputing that those criticisms were genuine and sincerely advanced, as any-one who listened to earlier debates would have realised. However, I assure those Members that when the Labour Party advocated the Act we examined carefully the provisions that it would contain. The general conclusions that the Labour Party placed before the House were not arrived at for sinister reasons of the sort that attract the attention of the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Gardiner) and others.
We advanced the principle of the Scotland Act because we thought after the most detailed examination that it was the only way that a substantial transfer of power could be made while retaining the sovereignty of the House. Anyone who seeks to fulfil those two principles—and if they are not fulfilled there cannot be a proper measure of devolution—will arrive at something not so very different from the Scotland Act.
The Act is not perfect. No doubt amendments could be made. In the Labour Party's proposals included in our general election manifesto we took account of the fact. The Labour Party took account of the outcome of the referendum when putting its proposals to the country. If the Government were serious in wishing for all-party talks, they would agree that the proposition voted for by the majority of people in Scotland should be included on the agenda.
It is extraordinary that the Government propose that that item should not be included on the agenda. That is the sort of thing that can be expected from a Government who believe in Tory democracy. Tory democracy is a term that was denounced by the previous Liberal Prime Minister, Lord Rosebery, who said that it was the wolf of Toryism in the sheep's clothing of democracy. That is what it is. That is what the Tory democrats have produced to deal with the devolution problems.
We shall want to see something much better than that if we are to enter all-party talks on these questions. We are prepared to look at what the Government propose on these matters. However, we believe that it is monstrous to ask the House of Commons to wipe out a proposition on which the Scots voted and to say that the matter will not be discussed when we meet.
The hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. McQuarrie) is serious in wanting such talks. If the Government were serious they should have proposed that all-party talks should take place. Then we could have considered how the House of Commons should deal with the matter. That would have been the straightforward, intelligent and positive way in which to deal with the matter. Instead, the Government seek to snatch their moment of power by removing the Act from the statute book.
Some Members of Parliament are bitter opponents of devolution in all circumstances. They have every right to vote for this proposal. The hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Stokes) was perfectly entitled to make the speech that he did, but he was not entitled to ask all Government supporters to support devolution. It says a great deal for the generosity of the Prime Minister that she should have selected so many devolutionists to grace her Front Bench, especially to deal with Scottish affairs. I am sure that they are eager to discuss all the matters that they wish to present to the House.
This brings me to the question that was raised by the right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery). He is perfectly entitled to vote against the proposition tonight and to berate some of his hon. and right hon. Friends on the Front Bench. There are many Government supporters—as there are some Members of the Opposition—who supported the devolution proposals as they justly believed that that was the necessary and best way in which to preserve the unity of the United Kingdom. That is not an extraordinary view for anyone to take. It commanded wide assent throughout Parliament and Scotland. Indeed, it was the view put to Scotland and to Scottish Tories only two years ago by the deputy leader of the Tories. One report was headlined in the newspapers:
Scots Tories vote 2-1 for assembly—then uproar.
But the uproar was not half as important as what came further down. The report continued:
Mr. Whitelaw, the Tory devolution supremo
—I am sorry that the supremo has absented himself from the end of these discussions—
said such a body
—that is, the Assembly—
would prevent the breakup of the United Kingdom and have strong inquisitorial powers over the Scottish Office and other Government agencies. He swung conference dramatically
—he was stirring up apathy again, I see.
These are quotations from The Scotsman—or perhaps the Glasgow Herald. No matter. They are likely to be equally accurate. The report went on:
He swung conference dramatically when he declared: 'It is on that basis that on behalf of Mrs. Margaret Thatcher and the Shadow Cabinet I restate our commitment to a directly elected assembly'".
The Minister who will wind up on behalf of the Government did not need to be swung by oratory. He was there already. He was brought along very easily. All he will have to do when he speaks at the Dispatch Box tonight is to defend his principles. I hope that he will not find that too much of a strain so early on in his office.
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman can make his mark on this Administration. We certainly want some mark made upon them. If he were only to come to the Dispatch Box tonight and say "I stand absolutely by what was said by the devolution supremo. I happen to have been on his side all along. I am very gratified to have our policy pointed out so clearly", I would take it upon myself to say "Let us approach this whole matter in a constructive spirit. Let us have the all-party talks. Let us withdraw this order and suspend it."
That is not to say that we shall not be able to return to these matters at a later date. If, after the all-party talks, it emerges that the Minister abandons his fervent devolutionist views—if that is the eventual outcome—he will be able to come back to the House and put his case. Let him not stand up now and say that he has abandoned the principles of a lifetime.
I am seeking to rescue the hon. Gentleman's reputation and I hope that he will take advantage of what I have said.
I believe that if, for whatever reason—whether to escape all-party talks that can really cover these matters intelligently or for any other purpose—this House votes to repeal the Scotland Act altogether, what we shall be doing is what so many supporters who have spoken from the Government Benches are claiming, including the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Gardiner). I fully acknowledge that he played his part in defeating this legislation, but those who have defeated this legislation, whether by the introduction of the 40 per cent. rule or other means, were passionate, devoted, open opponents of devolution in any form.
If this House of Commons decides that that is the principle upon which we take our stand—and that is what I believe will be the legitimate deduction of the people of Scotland if this Act is repealed—it will be making a profound error, because we shall be saying that we know better than those people of Scotland who cast their votes. The majority of those who voted, according to the normal systems that prevail in this country, voted for devolution.
Those of us who have been strong supporters of devolution and who remain so, naturally would have preferred a much bigger vote. But for this House of Commons, having instituted a referendum to deal with the matter, then to say "We take no notice of the result. We think that the referendum decision in Scotland is precisely the same as the vote in Wales", even though the votes went opposite ways, would be highly dangerous.
We on the Opposition Benches will not take any instruction from Tories about protecting the constitution of our country and the unity of the United Kingdom. We do not need any instruction from Tories on these matters. If we look back over the years, we find that on most or many of these great occasions it has been the folly and the crimes of the Tory Party which have threatened the unity of the United Kingdom and the constitutional strength of this country.
It was a Tory House of Commons and a Tory House of Lords that slammed the door on any form of devolution in Ireland, and many of our consequent difficulties there result from the failure of the Tory Party to have the imagination to see what should have been done.
To take a much more recent example, we certainly need no instructions from the Tory Party about the protection of the sovereignty of the House of Commons. It was the Tory Party, only six years ago, that passed through this House of Commons the Act of Parliament that did the gravest injury to the sovereignty of this House for 100 years, the Act which handed over to the Common Market authorities powers which we had held in this country. We have seen over recent years how necessary it is that we should restore those powers to this House in one form or other.
Therefore, the Opposition certainly need no instructions from Tories about protecting the constitution and the unity of the United Kingdom.
It was for that purpose that we introduced the Scotland Act. It was for that purpose that we argued on it in the country. We secured a majority of those who voted. If the House of Commons spurns that decision and says "Wipe it from the constitutional slate altogether," it will be making a grave error. This House and this country will return to this matter, and the Labour Party will keep faith with the people of Scotland, whatever decision may be made by the House.
I begin with the pleasant task of congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrewshire, East (Mr. Stewart) on his maiden speech, which was listened to with great pleasure by the House. I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Galloway (Mr. Lang), who also made his maiden speech today.
My hon. Friend the Member for Renfrewshire, East follows a former Member, Betty Harvie Anderson, who was well respected in this House. I know that both sides of the House were delighted at the recent honour that was bestowed upon her.
My hon. Friend the Member for Galloway comes to the House having defeated a nationalist Member of Parliament, thereby demonstrating, in perhaps the most eloquent way possible, the mood of Scottish opinion at present.
I also compliment my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, East (Mr. Henderson), who is, in the present parlance, a retread. He returns to the House after a short period as a Member some years ago.
It is now more than 10 years since the devolution debate began in earnest in Scotland. It is a debate that was, in part at least, precipitated by the voice of the Scottish people as expressed through the ballot box. It is perhaps fitting that this phase of the devolution debate should now be ending also largely as a result of the voice of the Scottish people as expressed through the ballot box.
Let no one be mistaken. It was the referendum on 1 March that caused the House to have to consider these matters today and to come to the decision that will shortly have to be voted on.
I listened with very great attention to the speech which has just been made by the Shadow Leader of the House. He spoke with considerable passion. He purported to speak for the people of Scotland in calling for the Act to be kept on the statute book. We do not know what his credentials are for claiming to speak for the people of Scotland on this issue. We can only hope that they are slightly better than his credentials for speaking for the people of Wales on this issue. He and his right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, both representing Welsh constituencies, have suffered a rebuff unprecedented this century on a constitutional matter. The House cannot but take that into account when deciding what weight to give to the right hon. Gentleman's views. That is an important point which must be considered.
I say quite categorically that I do not regret in any way what I did during the referendum campaign. What I will plead guilty to—and the only thing—is paying respect to the verdict of the Scottish people as expressed in that referendum. What we are concerned with is not how I or the hon. Gentleman voted then, but how the Scottish electorate voted in the referendum. That is what the House itself has to decide.
There has been considerable discussion in this debate on the 40 per cent. rule that was written into the Act, but I think that there are few hon. Members who would doubt that, even if that rule had never been introduced into the Act, given the result of the referendum we would still be here today and still about to come to a very similar decision. Even without the 40 per cent. rule, the referendum was advisory. There was never any question but that this House would have to take into account the express views of the Scottish electorate on 1 March in making the final decision.
Few people correctly predicted what would happen on that date. Nevertheless, we are facing the result today. First, 32·8 per cent. of the Scottish people voted "Yes" and roughly 68 per cent. either voted "No" or stayed at home. It cannot be seriously suggested that this can be a fundamental basis for a radical change in our constitutional arrangements.
It has been pointed out by certain hon. Gentlemen today that even if only 32 per cent. had voted "Yes" it might still have been justifiable to go ahead had the gap between the "Yes" and "No." votes been substantial. In fact, 32 per cent. voted "Yes" and 31 per cent. "No" The majority was a mere 77,000, the size of a largish constituency. That is no basis for embarking on the most fundamental constitutional reform since the Act of Union.
The third and perhaps most distressing consequence of the referendum debate was that Scotland was not only numerically but geographically divided. Six regions and islands voted "Yes" and six voted "No." The Central Lowlands voted narrowly in favour. The rural areas voted heavily against. Many people believed that the Scotland Act was likely to divide the people of Britain but it clearly also divided the people of Scotland. That is no basis for embarking on a fundamental constitutional reform.
It has been argued that, notwithstanding that, the 40 per cent. rule was unfair and nevertheless any majority should be sufficient for a constitutional reform. That argument is bogus. Hon. Members have suggested today that we are making a choice not simply for five years but for the indefinite future, but the most important reason why the 40 per cent. rule was an absolute necessity—and why I and many other hon. Members voted for it—was that, unlike the EEC referendum, that on devolution was restricted to one part of the United Kingdom on an issue that affected all of it.
Many people argued with great logic that the referendum should have applied throughout the United Kingdom. Although an Assembly was of particular importance to Scotland, it would also have a considerable effect on people throughout the United Kingdom. It was accepted that that would not be politically sensible. If the referendum had been taken throughout the United Kingdom, a small turnout in England with a small majority voting "No" would have massively outvoted any contrary decision in Scotland. The correct decision was therefore taken to restrict the referendum to Scotland.
That decision having been taken, it was not unreasonable, improper or unsound that, given a referendum restricted to only a fraction of the United Kingdom, it should be written into the legislation that only if a significant majority voted for the Scotland Act should it be put into effect. It was the minimum required to reconcile people throughout the United Kingdom to the Scotland Act.
Where do we go from here? There is no doubt that tonight the Scotland Act will be repealed. The Conservative Party and the Government have said that they are willing and anxious to enter into talks with other political parties to seek agreement on methods of constitutional change.
Will the hon. Gentleman explain why he feels it sensible to bludgeon the Act, as he apparently intends, before he has even sent out invitations for the all-party talks?
I will explain why if the hon. Gentleman will restrain himself.
There are various ways in which the government of Scotland can be improved within the structure of the United Kingdom legislation.
The success of the all-party talks depends on the response of the other parties, and their willingness to involve themselves in proposals for improving our system of government. Suggestions have been made, some of which have attracted support on both sides of the House. It has been suggested that we should improve the Select Committee system and consider increasing the functions of our Standing Committees and other organs of the House, in order to improve the quality of administration. These are very important matters which could make a major contribution towards improving the government of Scotland.
The Conservative Party and Conservative Governments have a very fine record on improving the quality of government in Scotland and bringing administrative devolution to that country. In 1885 it was a Conservative Government who established the office of Scottish Secretary in the first place. In 1926 a Conservative Government increased the powers of the Secretary of State and made him a full member of the Cabinet. In 1939 a Conservative Government brought the Scottish Office lock, stock and barrel to Scotland from London. If anyone believes that I am putting forward a partisan viewpoint, I shall quote the words of Mr. Iain MacCormick, the former SNP Member for Argyll, who wrote in 1970:
The Conservatives can justly boast that compared with the Labour Party they have been the pacemakers in advancing administrative devolution in Scotland.
I can understand the embarrassment that this causes to Labour Members. They are very good on rhetoric, but they are not particularly good at bringing administrative changes to the government of Scotland in the way that Conservative Governments have done over the past 90 years and will continue to do.
I am sure that the House is very enlightened by that historical contribution.
I turn to the point argued by both the Shadow Leader of the House—the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Foot)—and the former Secretary of State for Scotland—the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Craigton (Mr. Millan). They have asked why we are repealing the Scotland Act before the talks take place. The reason is simple and obvious. No one member of the Labour Party has today argued that the Scotland Act should be implemented now. No one representative of the Opposition has suggested that the result of the referendum was such as to entitle or require us to implement that Act immediately and establish an Assembly. Labour spokesmen from the Front and Back Benches have specifically rejected that proposition and acknowledged that the referendum result makes it impossible. Therefore, what is the purpose of keeping the Act on the statute book?
If it were argued that it was simply a matter of minor detail which could be rectified, that would fly in the face of the referendum result. Anyone who believed that there were only minor faults in the Scotland Act would undoubtedly have voted in favour of it. We can only assume—as we are entitled to assume—that the vast majority of those who stayed at home or voted "No" on 1 March did so because they believed that the Scotland Act had defects that were so substantial that minor tinkering with it would not help.
Are the Opposition now saying, some two or three months later, that they have the answers to these major problems? Have they discovered a way to give the Assembly taxation powers? This question has divided the party for the past three or four years. Are they now arguing that proportional representation, which was believed by some to be a defect of the Scotland Act, would be the answer to all the problems? I imagine that after the recent elections for the European Assembly, Labour might find some attraction in the argument. But that is not what Labour Members have said this evening.
Perhaps Labour has now found the answer to the West Lothian question. I can only give them my opinion that if they ever find the answer to the West Lothian question, they can be certain that the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) will quickly change the question.
I am sorry if I have upset the sensitivities of the hon. Member for West Lothian. He is held in great respect by hon. Members on both sides of the House. If I have said anything which implies any view to the contrary, I happily withdraw it.
The reason why the Opposition are voting against this repeal order has nothing to do with conviction, but everything to do with tactics. They know that if they were to vote with the Government, recognising the results of the referendum, they would have a rebellion on their hands from the Scottish Council of the Labour Party, the hon. Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan) and from certain other supporters of the Scotland Act. But they equally know that if they were to vote against the repeal order on the basis that the Act should be immediately implemented and an Assembly immediately established, they would have a rebellion on their hands, not from 50, but from 150 of their hon. Friends.
Therefore, the Opposition are forced into this tactical manoeuvre. They are saying that they are against the repeal order, not because they believe that an Assembly should be established, but because they believe that the order is premature. They hope that in that way they can reconcile their lack of principle with their political objectives. I do not believe that either the House or the country as a whole will be fooled by that manoeuvre.
I shall try to answer that point. We believe that it would be against the interests of all concerned if further discussions were to extend throughout the life of this Parliament. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] This subject has been discussed and debated for 10 years. We believe that discussions can usefully be carried out and can come to a conclusion in the course of this year, and indeed in the course of the next few months. But that will depend on the response of Opposition parties. If they do not respond constructively, the whole concept of all-party agreement cannot be achieved.
When the House votes tonight to repeal the Scotland Act, it will in some respects be doing what the House in its own instinct has wanted to do for some time. But it will be doing more than that. It will also be responding to the decision of the Scottish electorate on 1 March when the people of Scotland refused to endorse the Scotland Act. That is a fact of history which cannot be denied. On that basis we invite the House to vote for the order.
|Division No. 15]||AYES||[10.14 p.m.|
|Adley, Robert||Body, Richard||Butcher, John|
|Aitken, Jonathan||Bonsor, Sir Nicholas||Butler, Hon. Adam|
|Alexander, Richard||Boscawen, Hon. Robert||Cadbury, Jocelyn|
|Alison, Michael||Bottomley, Peter (Woolwich West)||Carlisle, John (Luton West)|
|Amery, Rt. Hon. Julian||Bowden, Andrew||Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)|
|Ancram, Michael||Boyson, Dr. Rhodes||Carlisle, Rt. Hon. Mark (Runcorn)|
|Arnold, Tom||Bradford, Rev. R.||Chalker, Mrs. Lynda|
|Aspinwall, Jack||Braine, Sir Bernard||Channon, Paul|
|Atkins, Rt. Hon H. (Spelthorne)||Bright, Graham||Chapman, Sydney|
|Atkins, Robert (Preston North)||Brinton, Timothy||Churchill, W. S.|
|Baker, Kenneth (St. Marylebone)||Brittan, Leon||Clark, Hon. Alan (Plymouth, Sutton)|
|Baker, Nicholas (North Dorset)||Brocklebank-Fowler, Christopher||Clark, William (Croydon South)|
|Beaumont-Dark, Anthony||Brooke, Hon. Peter||Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)|
|Bell, Ronald||Brotherton, Michael||Clegg, Walter|
|Bendall, Vivian||Brown, Michael (Brigg & Sc'thorpe)||Cockeram, Eric|
|Benyon, Thomas (Abingdon)||Browne, John (Winchester)||Colvin, Michael|
|Benyon, W. (Buckingham)||Bruce-Gardyne, John||Cope, John|
|Best, Keith||Bryan, Sir Paul||Cormack, Patrick|
|Bevan, David Gilroy||Budgen, Nick||Costain, A. P.|
|Biffen, Rt. Hon. John||Bulmer, Esmond||Cranborne, Viscount|
|Blaker, Peter||Burden, F. A.||Crouch, David|
|Dean, Paul (North Somerset)||Knight, Mrs. Jill||Pym, Rt. Hon. Francis|
|Dodsworth, Geoffrey||Knox, David||Raison, Timothy|
|Dorrell, Stephen||Lamont, Norman||Rathbone, Tim|
|Dover, Denshore||Lang, Ian||Rees, Peter (Dover and Deal)|
|du Cann, Rt. Hon. Edward||Latham, Michael||Renton, Tim|
|Dunn, Robert (Dartford)||Lawrence, Ivan||Rhodes James, Robert|
|Durant, Tony||Lawson, Nigel||Ridley, Hon. Nicholas|
|Dykes, Hugh||Lee, John||Ridsdale, Julian|
|Eden, Rt. Hon. Sir John||Lennox-Boyd, Hon. Mark||Rifkind, Malcolm|
|Edwards, Rt. Hon. N. (Pembroke)||Lester, Jim (Beeston)||Rippon, Rt. Hon. Geoffrey|
|Eggar, Timothy||Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)||Roberts, Michael (Cardiff N. W.)|
|Elliott, Sir William||Lloyd, Ian (Havant & Waterloo)||Roberts, Wyn (Conway)|
|Emery, Peter||Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)||Robinson, Peter (Belfast East)|
|Eyre, Reginald||Loveridge, John||Ross, Wm. (Londonderry)|
|Fairbairn, Nicholas||Lyell, Nicholas||Rost, Peter|
|Fairgrieve, Russell||McAdden, Sir Stephen||Royle, Sir Anthony|
|Faith, Mrs. Sheila||McCrindle, Robert||Sainsbury, Hon. Timothy|
|Farr, John||McCusker, H.||St. John Stevas, Rt. Hon. Norman|
|Fell, Anthony||Macfarlane, Neil||Scott, Nicholas|
|Fenner, Mrs. Peggy||MacGregor, John||Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)|
|Finsberg, Geoffrey||Mackay, John (Argyll)||Shelton, William (Streatham)|
|Fisher, Sir Nigel||Macmillan, Rt. Hon. M. (Farnham)||Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)|
|Fletcher, Alexander (Edinburgh N.)||McNair-Wilson, Michael (Newbury)||Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge-Br'hills)|
|Fookes, Miss Janet||McNair-Wilson, Patrick (New Forest)||Shersby, Michael|
|Forman, Nigel||McQuarrie, Albert||Silvester, Fred|
|Fowler, Rt. Hon. Norman||Madel, David||Sims, Roger|
|Fox, Marcus||Major, John||Skeet, T. H. H.|
|Fraser, Rt. Hon. H. (Stafford & St)||Marland, Paul||Smith, Dudley (War. and Leam'ton)|
|Fraser, Peter (South Angus)||Marlow, Antony||Speed, Keith|
|Galbraith, Hon. T. G. D.||Marshall, Michael (Arundel)||Speller, Tony|
|Marten, Neil (Banbury)||Spence, John|
|Gardiner, George (Reigate)||Mates, Michael||Spicer, Michael (S. Worcestershire)|
|Gardner, Edward (South Fylde)||Mather, Carol||Sproat, Iain|
|Garel-Jones, Tristan||Maude, Rt. Hon. Angus||Squire, Robin|
|Gilmour, Rt. Hon. Sir Ian||Mawby, Ray||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|Glyn, Dr Alan||Mawhinney, Dr. Brian||Stanley, John|
|Goodhart, Philip||Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin||Steen, Anthony|
|Goodhew, Victor||Mayhew, Patrick||Stevens, Martin|
|Goodlad, Alastair||Mellor, David||Stewart, Ian (Hitchin)|
|Gorst, John||Meyer, Sir Anthony||Stewart, John (East Renfrewshire)|
|Gow, Ian||Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove & Redditch)||Stokes, John|
|Gower, Sir Raymond||Mills, Iain (Meriden)||Stradling Thomas, J.|
|Gray, Hamish||Mills, Peter (West Devon)||Tapsell, Peter|
|Greenway, Harry||Miscampbell, Norman||Taylor, Robert (Croydon N. W.)|
|Griffiths, Eldon (Bury St Edmunds)||Mitchell, David (Basingstoke)||Tebbit, Norman|
|Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N.)||Moate, Roger||Temple-Morris, Peter|
|Grimond, Rt. Hon. J.||Molyneaux, James||Thatcher, Rt. Hon. Mrs Margaret|
|Grist, Ian||Monro, Hector||Thomas, Rt. Hon. Peter (Hendon S.)|
|Grylls, Michael||Montgomery, Fergus||Thompson, Donald|
|Gummer, John Selwyn||Moore, John||Thorn, Neil (Ilford South)|
|Hamilton, Hon. Archie (Eps'm & Ew'll)||Morgan, Geraint||Thornton, George|
|Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)||Morris, Michael (Northampton, Sth)||Townend, John (Bridlington)|
|Hampson, Dr. Keith||Morrison, Hon. Charles (Devizes)||Townsend, Cyril D. (Bexleyheath)|
|Hannam, John||Morrison, Hon. Peter (City of Chester)||Trippier, David|
|Haselhurst, Alan||Murphy, Christopher||Trotter, Neville|
|Hastings, Stephen||Myles, David||van Straubenzee, W. R.|
|Havers, Rt. Hon. Sir Michael||Neale, Gerrard||Vaughan, Dr. Gerard|
|Hawksley, Warren||Needham, Richard||Viggers, Peter|
|Hayhoe, Barney||Nelson, Anthony||Waddington, David|
|Heddle, John||Neubert, Michael||Wakeham, John|
|Henderson, Barry||Newton, Tony||Waldegrave, Hon. William|
|Heseltine, Rt. Hon. Michael||Nott, Rt. Hon. John||Wall, Patrick|
|Hicks, Robert||Onslow, Cranley||Walters, Dennis|
|Higgins, Terence L.||Oppenheim, Rt. Hon. Mrs. Sally||Ward, John|
|Hill, James||Page, Rt. Hon. R. Graham (Crosby)||Watson, John|
|Hogg, Hon. Douglas (Grantham)||Parkinson, Cecil||Wells, John (Maidstone)|
|Holland, Philip (Carlton)||Parris, Matthew||Wells, P. Bowen (Hert'rd & Stev'nage)|
|Hooson, Tom||Patten, Christopher (Bath)||Wheeler, John|
|Hordern, Peter||Patten, John (Oxford)||Whitelaw, Rt. Hon. William|
|Howell, Rt. Hon. David (Guildford)||Pattie, Geoffrey||Whitney, Raymond|
|Hunt, David (Wirral)||Pawsey, James||Wickenden, Keith|
|Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)||Percival, Sir Ian||Wiggin, Jerry|
|Hurd, Hon. Douglas||Peyton, Rt. Hon. John||Wilkinson, John|
|Irving, Charles (Cheltenham)||Pink, R. Bonner||Williams, Delwyn (Montgomery)|
|Jenkin, Rt. Hon. Patrick||Pollock, Alexander||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Johnson Smith, Geoffrey||Porter, George||Wolfson, Mark|
|Jopling, Rt. Hon. Michael||Powell, Rt. Hon. J. Enoch (S Down)||Younger, Rt. Hon. George|
|Joseph, Rt. Hon. Sir Keith||Prentice, Rt. Hon. Reg|
|Kaberry, Sir Donald||Price, David (Eastleigh)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Kimball, Marcus||Prior, Rt. Hon. James||Mr. Spencer Le Marchant and|
|King, Rt. Hon. Tom||Proctor, K. Harvey||Mr. Anthony Berry.|
|Adams, Allen||Ginsburg, David||Owen, Rt. Hon. Dr David|
|Allaun, Frank||Golding, John||Palmer, Arthur|
|Alton, David||Gourlay, Harry||Park, George|
|Anderson, Donald||Grant, John (Islington C)||Parry, Robert|
|Archer, Rt. Hon. Peter||Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife)||Pendry, Tom|
|Armstrong, Ernest||Harrison, Rt. Hon. Walter||Penhaligon, David|
|Ashley, Jack||Hattersley, Rt. Hon. Roy||Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)|
|Ashton, Joe||Haynes, David||Price, Christopher (Lewisham West)|
|Atkinson, Norman (H'gey, Tott'ham)||Healey, Rt. Hon. Denis||Race, Reg|
|Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)||Hogg, Norman (E Dunbartonshire)||Radice, Giles|
|Barnett, Rt. Hon. Joel (Heywood)||Holland, Stuart (L'beth, Vauxhall)||Rees, Rt. Hon. Merlyn (Leeds South)|
|Benn, Rt. Hon. Anthony Wedgwood||Home Robertson, John||Roberts, Allan (Bootle)|
|Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N.)||Hooley, Frank||Roberts, Ernest (Hackney North)|
|Bidwell, Sydney||Horam, John||Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock)|
|Booth, Rt. Hon. Albert||Howell, Rt. Hon. Denis (B'ham, Sm H)||Robertson, George|
|Boothroyd, Miss Betty||Howells, Geraint||Rodgers, Rt. Hon. William|
|Bottomley, Rt. Hon. Arthur (M'brough)||Huckfield, Les||Rooker, J. W.|
|Bray, Dr. Jeremy||Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen North)||Ross, Ernest (Dundee West)|
|Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)||Janner, Hon. Greville||Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)|
|Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W.)||Jay, Rt. Hon. Douglas||Rowlands, Ted|
|Brown, Ron (Edinburgh, Leith)||John, Brynmor||Sever, John|
|Buchan, Norman||Johnson, James (Hull West)||Shore, Rt. Hon. Peter (Step and Pop)|
|Callaghan, Rt. Hon. J. (Cardiff S. E.)||Johnston, Russell (Inverness)||Short, Mrs. Renée|
|Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P)||Jones, Alec (Rhondda)||Silkin, Rt. Hon. John (Deptford)|
|Campbell, Ian||Jones, Barry (East Flint)||Silkin, Rt. Hon. S. C. (Dulwich)|
|Campbell-Savours, Dale||Jones, Dan (Burnley)||Silverman, Julius|
|Canavan, Dennis||Kaufman, Rt. Hon. Gerald||Skinner, Dennis|
|Carmichael, Neil||Kerr, Russell||Smith, Rt. Hon. J. (North Lanarkshire)|
|Cartwright, John||Kinnock, Neil||Snape, Peter|
|Clark, David (South Shields)||Lambie, David||Soley, Clive|
|Cocks, Rt. Hon. Michael (Bristol S.)||Lamond, James||Stallard, A. W.|
|Cohen, Stanley||Leighton, Ronald||Steel, Rt. Hon. David|
|Concannon, Rt. Hon. J. D.||Lestor, Miss. Joan (Eton & Slough)||Stewart, Rt. Hon. Donald (W Isles)|
|Cox, Tom (Wandsworth, Tooting)||Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)||Stott, Roger|
|Crowther, J. S.||Lofthouse, Geoffrey||Strang, Gavin|
|Cunliffe, Lawrence||Lyons, Edward (Bradford West)||Summerskill, Hon. Dr. Shirley|
|Cunningham, Dr. John (Whitehaven)||Mabon, Rt. Hon. Dr. J. Dickson||Taylor, Mrs. Ann (Bolton West)|
|Davidson, Arthur||McCartney, Hugh||Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)|
|Davies, Rt. Hon. Denzil (Llanelli)||McDonald, Dr. Oonagh||Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)|
|Davies, E. Hudson (Caerphilly)||McElhone, Frank||Thomas, Mike (Newcastle East)|
|Davis, Clinton (Hackney Central)||McKay, Allen (Penistone)||Thomas, Dr. Roger (Carmarthen)|
|Davis, Terry (B'rm'ham, Stechford)||McKelvey, William||Thorne, Stan (Preston South)|
|Deakins, Eric||MacKenzie, Rt. Hon. Gregor||Tilley, John|
|Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)||Maclennan, Robert||Tinn, James|
|Dempsey, James||McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, Central)||Torney, Tom|
|Dewar, Donald||McNally, Thomas||Varley, Rt. Hon. Eric G.|
|Dormand, J. D.||McWilliam, John||Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne Valley)|
|Douglas, Dick||Magee, Bryan||Walker, Harold (Doncaster)|
|Dubs, Alfred||Marks, Kenneth||Watkins, David|
|Duffy, A. E. P.||Marshall, David (Gl'sgow, Shettles'n)||Weetch, Ken|
|Dunn, James A. (Liverpool, Kirkdale)||Marshall, Dr. Edmund (Goole)||Wellbeloved, James|
|Eadie, Alex||Marshall, Jim (Leicester South)||Welsh, Michael|
|White, Frank R. (Bury & Radcliffe)|
|Eastham, Ken||Martin, Michael (Gl'gow, Springb'rn)||White, James (Glasgow, Pollok)|
|Ellis, Raymond (N. E. Derbyshire)||Mason, Rt. Hon. Roy||Wigley, Dafydd|
|English, Michael||Maxton, John||Willey, Rt. Hon. Frederick|
|Ennals, Rt. Hon. David||Maynard, Miss Joan||Williams, Rt. Hon. Alan (Swansea W.)|
|Evans, John (Newton)||Meacher, Michael||Williams, Sir Thomas (Warrington)|
|Ewing, Harry||Millan, Rt. Hon. Bruce||Wilson, Gordon (Dundee East)|
|Field, Frank||Mitchell, Austin (Grimsby)||Wilson, Rt. Hon. Sir Harold (Huyton)|
|Flannery, Martin||Morris, Rt. Hon. Alfred (Wythenshawe)||Wilson, William (Coventry S. E.)|
|Fletcher, L. R. (Ilkeston)||Morris, Rt. Hon. Charles (Openshaw)||Winnick, David|
|Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)||Morris, Rt. Hon. John (Aberavon)||Woodall, Alec|
|Foot, Rt. Hon. Michael||Morton, George||Woolmer, Kenneth|
|Ford, Ben||Moyle, Rt. Hon. Roland||Wrigglesworth, Ian|
|Foulkes, George||Mulley, Rt. Hon. Frederick||Wright, Miss Sheila|
|Fraser, John (Lambeth, Norwood)||Newens, Stanley||Young, David (Bolton East)|
|Freeson, Rt. Hon. Reginald||Oakes, Gordon|
|Garrett, John (Norwich S.)||O'Halloran, Michael||TELLERS FOR THE NOES|
|George, Bruce||O'Neill, Martin||Mr. Ted Graham and|
|Gilbert, Rt. Hon. Dr John||Orme, Rt. Hon. Stanley||Mr. James Hamilton.|