On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You are perhaps aware that last week the Scotland Bill was published in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar). Without questioning your ruling, Mr. Speaker, may I suggest that it would greatly facilitate the work of examining the government of Scotland if we were allowed to ventilate—particularly in voting terms—the weight of different areas of opinion, especially among Scottish Members? I seek your guidance, Mr. Speaker, if not your approval, trusting that further consideration may be given to calling the amendment in the name of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. It appears that the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Mr. Douglas) is experiencing something that is regularly experienced by alliance Members. When a motion is in the name of the Leader of the Opposition, only on the Queen's Speech do you call a second amendment. Would it be appropriate for the matter to be considered by the Select Committee on Procedure to establish whether there is scope for the calling of second amendments?
I beg to move,
That this House recognises, as a first step towards the devolution of power throughout a decentralised United Kingdom, the need to establish a Scottish Parliament elected by a system of proportional representation with revenue raising powers and legislative authority on all matters of public policy relating to Scotland, except for matters concerning defence, international affairs and the United Kingdom economy; and further recognises the need to streamline the structure of local government by establishing single-tier local authorities throughout mainland Scotland, while consolidating and developing the powers of the existing islands authorities.
Throughout the 270 years of Union, Scotland has required — and here it is very different from Wales —
separate legislation throughout the whole sphere of domestic matters. This is a major anomaly, which the British Parliament has accepted because it has no alternative. It is an anomaly which has not always worked entirely to the advantage of Scotland because as a result of the requirements of a separate legal system, the British Parliament was unable to meet fully the need for modernising, reforming and improving that legal system. Scotland is the only territory on the face of the earth which has a legal system without a legislature to improve, modernise and amend it. …
There are other distinctive Scottish characteristics as well. Throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries Scotland was governed in a different way from the rest of Britain, with different administrative powers, different local government and a different structure of education. In 1885 a Scottish Secretary was appointed, and in the 1920s he was elevated to Secretary of State. In the 1930s the Scottish Office was sent lock, stock and barrel to Edinburgh. All this administrative devolution was done by Conservative Governments, and it was not done out of a feeling of national sentiment, but because of the administrative requirements needed to achieve good government for the Scottish people.
It may be asked why, if we have had this enormous devolution and if Parliament, with a unitary system, is able to respond to the distinct needs of Scotland, this should not continue. It may be asked why, with a separate legal system and a separate Scottish Office, it is necessary to go any farther and establish a directly-elected Assembly. That is a fair question, and it deserves a serious answer. The answer is that throughout the last 270 years a dynamic change has taken place. This is not because the people have changed their minds but because of the increasing complexity of government, requiring more and more administrative devolution, and more powers to be given to the Scottish Office.
We have now a Secretary of State for Scotland who is for all practical purposes a Scottish Prime Minister. He covers a Department the equivalent of which in England and Wales is served by eight or nine Ministries. He has one Department, and Scottish Members are expected to scrutinise his actions. The Scottish Office has more civil servants than the European Commission … There has been a qualitative change in the call for devolution. In the early twentieth century the demand for a separate Scottish Legislature was the result of national sentiment. That national sentiment still exists, but added to it is the need for good government, good administration and a better deal for Scottish people within the United Kingdom." — [Official Report, 16 December 1976; Vol. 922, c. 1832–33.]
I have been speaking for about three minutes. Every word that I have spoken so far is taken from a speech by the right hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind) in this House on 16 December 1976. I chose those opening words because I am immodest enough to think that others may put forward the same arguments with as much eloquence as the right hon. and learned Member did on that occasion. There is only one alteration to be made. It is now 280 years and not, as he said at the time, 270 years since the Act of Union. But the arguments are just the same. Therefore, I am astonished to find the name of the right hon. and learned Member attached to the Government amendment that you, Mr. Speaker, have just selected, because it refers to rejecting
as irrelevant … arguments for constitutional change for which there is no evidence of popular demand".
The amendment goes on to reject
any proposals for constitutional change that could undermine the unity of the United Kingdom.
That last phrase was known in debates in the late 1970s as the slippery slope argument, and it appears in the amendment under the name of the right hon. and learned Member for Pentlands. However, in another part of the same speech the right hon. and learned Member dealt with the slippery slope argument. He referred to the ultra-Unionists who believe that
merely by establishing an Assembly the British identity and the British nationality, which is felt with equal passion by Scots as by Englishmen, will somehow be dissipated and will disappear in a very short time. I have more faith in the British identity as shared by the people of Scotland. It is argued that devolution always leads to separatism. This has been claimed by many hon. Members, especially by some of my hon. Friends. I must challenge them to name an example where that has happened."—[Official Report, 16 December 1976; Vol. 922, c. 1837.]
I suppose that the right hon. and learned Member is still challenging his hon. Friends to name an example of where that has happened.
As for the reference in the Government's amendment to the current state of public opinion, I can only say that the right hon. and learned Member cannot have read or studied the opinion polls that have been published over the years. If what he said is true of his sentiments in 1976, it is certainly even more true today.
A MORI poll has been published for many years in The Scotsman on the subject of devolution. In May 1983, we found that to three questions—first, do people want a completely independent assembly; second, do they want a Scottish assembly as part of Britain but with substantial powers; or, third, do they want no change from the present system — the answers were that 23 per cent, of the people wanted complete independence, that 51 per cent, wanted a Scottish assembly and that 22 per cent, wanted the present system to be retained. However, by April 1987 these figures had changed. The number of people wanting a completely independent assembly had increased to 32 per cent.; those wanting a Scottish assembly as part of Britain amounted to 50 per cent.; and those wanting no change to the present system had gone down to 15 per cent. That is part of the general change of opinion that the polls have recorded ever since 1979. Those who want a Scottish assembly of whatever variety — I prefer to call it a Scottish Parliament—amount to 82 per cent., as against 15 per cent, who wish there to be no change in the present system. How on earth the Government can refer in their amendment to no evidence of popular demand beats me.
As the right hon. Gentleman develops his argument, will he be arguing for similar and parallel institutions for all the regions of the United Kingdom? Will he be arguing that there should be Secretaries of State for all the other regions? He must, in all honesty, concede that the west midlands, which is comparable in size and population and in the problems that it has to face with Scotland, requires similar representation to that for which he is arguing in Scotland.
If the hon. Gentleman will do me the kindness of reading our motion, he will see that we refer to a first step towards greater decentralisation of power. If the hon. Gentleman wants to digress and to deal with that subject, I warmly commend to him the report of the Fisher committee that was published by our alliance before the last election. The report goes into that matter in great detail. This afternoon our purpose is confined to Scotland, as the first case in the process of decentralisation. I recognise that there is scope for extending decentralisation to the west midlands. However, a few moments ago I quoted the authoritative words of the Secretary of State for Scotland, who said that we have a separate legal system. The west midlands does not have a separate legal system, and I do not believe that it wishes to have one. There are differences, but this afternoon we are dealing with devolution to Scotland as a first step, and it is clearly stated to be a first step.
I have just given way. Perhaps the hon. and learned Gentleman will catch your eye later, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
The case for decentralisation of government and for the establishment of a Scottish Parliament, looking particularly at the Scottish context, is undeniable, given the great increase in the scope of government over the citizen. If one looks back to 1707 or even to the home rule debates of 1913 in Parliament, one finds that today the Government have an involvement in the lives of the citizen that they did not have at the time of those earlier debates—as just one example, over the provision of a National Health Service.
The amount of government over the citizen has greatly increased and the centralisation of government has also increased. Under this Government, centralisation has been increasing, if one adds to the general trend of centralisation the diminution in the authority of local government that has taken place in recent years. Hon. Members are familiar with the over-congestion of business at Westminster. I often think that the time to call a Division on Scottish self-government would be in the middle of the night during the Report stage of a Scottish Bill. Then we should have the support of all English Members for such a change.
The question that all these problems pose to those hon. Members who represent Scottish constituencies is whether we, as Scottish politicians, have the vision and the wit to be able to secure a united majority behind any particular set of proposals.
When one looks back at the debates in the Scottish Parliament leading to the Act of Union of 1707, one finds there a very clear division of opinion. There were those who were certainly in favour of the Act of Union but who believed that that should be brought about in a quasi-federal manner — that there should be retained a legislature in Scotland that would be able to deal with Scottish domestic affairs—[Interruption.] Unfortunately, those who were dealing with the matter at the time— [Interruption.] No doubt the antecedents of the hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross (Mr. Fairbairn) who is continuing to interrupt from a sedentary position were in favour of an incorporating Union. Their arguments won the day. However, those who did not believe in an incorporating Union have continued to express that view. We have not suddenly discovered a new issue in the latter part of the 20th century. Throughout our political history since the Act of Union, there have been many political moves to ensure internal self-government for Scotland.
I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman. He has accused me of making sedentary interventions, but he will not give way when I am on my feet. For those of us who have not read Scottish history, will the right hon. Gentleman be good enough to tell us which debates suggested that there should be a federal system in the great debate of 1706, which peers were and were not bribed by the English and by how much and finally what were the proposals? I do not believe that the right hon. Gentleman has read any Scottish history.
I refer the hon. and learned Gentleman to the Library and the learned works of the late Lord Cooper. If he reads those, he will discover all the answers to his questions. I will not be deflected into debating the events of 1707. I have simply said that the issue has not been settled since 1707.
Many hon. Members may be unaware of the fact, or may have forgotten, that in 1913 the House gave a Second Reading to a home rule Bill for Scotland. The legislation proceeded no further simply because of the outbreak of the first world war. The vote is on the record and the principle was approved by the House. More recently, the nearest that we have come to securing any measure of internal self-government was in the 1978–79 legislation and the referendum in 1979. The people of Scotland voted by 52 per cent, to 48 per cent, in the referendum in favour of the proposed assembly.
When we consider the issue today and in other debates in the next few weeks we must ask ourselves if, as I asserted earlier, there has always been a substantial majority in favour of the principle of internal self-government, why, when it came to a vote on the proposal, was the majority so narrow and why did it fail to meet the qualifying majority required under statute? I believe that there are two basic reasons why the majority was narrow.
First, there was a failure in the political presentation of the case. I could make many references to the referendum debates, but I will cite just one or two. There was a powerful intervention at the time by the former Conservative Prime Minister, Lord Home, who argued that people should vote against the proposals because he thought that they were defective, and particularly that the devolution package proposed no revenue-raising powers for the Parliament. In his speech in Edinburgh he said:
I should hesitate to vote No if I did not think that the parties will keep the devolution issue at the top of their priorities.
He went on to advocate a no vote because the Scottish legislation provided no tax powers, no proportional representation and no well-defined formula for separating Scottish and English business at Westminster.
We should remember the political atmosphere in the first half of 1979. That was after the winter of discontent and at that time we must admit that the Labour Government were extremely unpopular. For a Conservative leader of the stature of Lord Home to urge Conservative voters to vote no in the referendum on the grounds that any future Conservative Government would come forward with better proposals was a powerful and telling argument and I believe that it swayed many Conservative voters in the referendum.
Yes, it had. The issue was dead. I am trying to analyse why the issue was dead at that time.
I want to consider how the Labour party conducted the referendum. It was conducted at a time when the Labour Government was unpopular. Unlike the referendum on entry into the European Community, in which I was also involved, there was no question of all-party support for and against devolution with proper funding for both sides of the case. For reasons best known to itself, the Labour party chose to push the devolution argument as part of Government proposals and as part of the Labour party platform. I remember photographs of the noble Lord Callaghan, the former leader of the Labour party, appearing on posters all over Scotland saying "Vote yes to devolution." The political atmosphere on both sides—
Because that made it a single-party issue. If the Labour party does not believe that that was a contributory factor in the failure to achieve an overwhelming majority, it had better think again. The politics of the devolution argument helped to ensure that we did not achieve the qualified majority.
The right hon. Gentleman must be aware that many Labour Back Benchers opposed devolution, including, incidentally, my right hon. Friend the present leader of the Labour party, who has a Welsh interest. The right hon. Gentleman must be aware that many of us were prepared to go along with devolution up to a point. However, we did not believe that it was necessary to break up our United Kingdom if that resulted in three nations instead of the one which deals with the basic economic problems that we face.
In substance I would argue that our proposal does not seek to break up the United Kingdom. I will argue in a moment that it would provide for more effective economic management of Scotland if there were internal self-government. In response to the hon. Gentleman's political point, of course I have not forgotten the position taken by the present leader of the Labour party at the time. However, like the present Secretary of State for Scotland, the right hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock) has enjoyed the luxury of changing his opinion. However, the Leader of the Opposition has changed his opinion in the right direction, unlike the Secretary of State for Scotland.
Until now, the right hon. Gentleman's argument from an alliance point of view has been quite sound. However, his analysis of the political situation in Scotland in 1979 is fundamentally flawed. The right hon. Gentleman cannot possibly say that the referendum was held in- Scotland when the Labour Government was unpopular in Scotland as 12 weeks later we went to the country, because the right hon. Gentleman joined with the Tories to bring the Labour Government down, and increased the number of seats held by Labour Members in Scotland. The right hon. Gentleman cannot have it both ways.
I do not have the figures to hand, but if the hon. Gentleman considers the Labour vote in Scotland since 1945 and studies the dip that occurred in 1979, he will understand that my basic point is true.
If Labour Members will not accept it from me, they should consider the comments made by Mr. Alan Massie in The Sunday Times yesterday. He said that unless the lessons were learned, there was a risk in any future devolution that measures would be Labour measures rather than Scottish measures. Labour Members should take that to heart.
I said that the reasons for lack of enthusiasm in the referendum were twofold. The first related to the political presentation. The other, more important, reason relates to defects in the substance of the package on offer. I believe that there were three defects in the package. The first was that identified by Lord Home, involving the lack of revenue-raising powers. Without going into detail now because we will have another opportunity to debate it later, I welcome the fact that the new Labour party Bill on Scotland recognises and corrects that defect that occurred in the previous devolution package. In the age of the computer it should certainly be easier to arrange for a Scottish Parliament to have income tax or sales tax-raising powers and certainly it would not be a proper Parliament unless it had scope for raising its own expenditure.
The second defect in the devolution proposals was the deliberate attempt to ignore the recommendation by the Royal Commission on the constitution, under Lord Kilbrandon, that any Scottish assembly should be constituted by a system of proportional representation. The commission recommended that, not because of arguments about fairness or unfairness to Liberals or any other minority, but because it believed that it would be wrong, and unacceptable to public opinion, to establish in Scotland a Parliament which might, for a long time, come under the dominance of one party and of one region of Scotland.
We have to face the fact that Scotland's population is not evenly spread throughout its territory. Half the population lives in the Strathclyde region. It would be possible—in the referendum this was reflected in anxiety throughout the rest of Scotland — that an assembly, improperly constituted, could be dominated by the economic power of one region.
I shall not give way.
The proposition which Kilbrandon pointed out, and was ignored at the time, was that any assembly constituted in Scotland should enjoy the confidence of every part of Scotland. It is no use the Labour party whingeing about a Conservative Government with 42 per cent, of popular support in the United Kingdom denying certain legislation such as Scottish devolution, when the Labour party, by coincidence, has exactly 42 per cent, support from the people in Scotland. In the interests of getting a package through, Labour Members would be wise to pay attention to the state of public opinion outside the central belt where their dominance is so obvious.
I shall not give way again. I have given way at least five times and I do not want to make an inordinately long speech.
The third and last defect that I identified in the previous package was the failure to meet the argument that the people of Scotland were being offered an extra layer of government and an extra tier of bureaucracy. That is why we say in our motion that we would "streamline" local government to reduce it to a single tier under a Scottish Parliament. We do not want to increase the layers of local government available to the people of Scotland.
We accept the recommendation in the Kilbrandon report to reduce the number of Scottish Members of Parliament to the same ratio per population as applies in England and Wales, and to abolish the post of Secretary of State for Scotland. Unless we grasp the necessary constitutional changes, those who argue against us that we shall create more bureaucracy will have a case. We must accept the logic of our argument and accept diminutions of Government elsewhere.
The right hon. Gentleman has acknowledged that if devolution were introduced Scottish representation would have to be on the same basis as it is for the rest of the United Kingdom. But it would be extremely hard to maintain it at that and there would be strong pressure to reduce it. The right hon. Gentleman has not met the famous West Lothian question. It is possible to conceive that Scottish Members of Parliament would vote on English domestic legislation while English Members would have no comparable say in Scottish legislation. Because of that, devolution could never command trust and acceptance.
I hope that I shall carry the right hon. Member for Aylesbury with me when I say that as a first step it is necessary to deal with the over-representation of Scotland in Westminster if we are to devolve government. If we then proceed to devolve government to Wales and to the regions of England we shall have to re-examine the total composition of Parliament here. In the meantime, I say frankly that there is no answer to the West Lothian question. I suppose we should now call it the Linlithgow question. We have to accept the illogicalities of our actions here, just as we have accepted them over the years for representatives from Northern Ireland. None of us pretends that the change is without anomalies but I believe that the anomalies will be far fewer than those that exist in the present legislative system.
I believe that Edinburgh could once again be a centre of political power, controlling the development of our culture, education and legal system, and be the custodian of our history and separate church identity. There is evidence that there is a connection between the growth of prosperity and the weight of economic power in the southeast of England, and the concentration of political power.
During the last 12 months I have been present at federal elections in Germany and Canada. During state elections in Hamburg and Ontario I saw evidence of local political dynamism, power and interest on a scale wholly different from our experience in local government elections. Britain is the most overcentralised country in Europe. I believe that the assembly building waiting in Edinburgh should now be filled and that Edinburgh should have its heart restored.
I beg to move, to leave out from "House" to end of the end of Question and to add instead thereof:
rejects as irrelevant to the wellbeing of Scotland arguments for constitutional change for which there is no evidence of popular demand; acknowledges the benefits that Scotland enjoys from the existing arrangements; and rejects any proposals for constitutional change that could undermine the unity of the United Kingdom.
I congratulate the leader of the Liberal party on his speech. I found the first five minutes to be particularly well-phrased, felicitous and entirely persuasive — [Interruption.] I feel no concern at all that the right hon. Gentleman should choose to quote from a speech that I made in the House. I say that for the simple reason that my views have not changed. Now, as then, I can see certain theoretical attractions in allowing within Scotland clearly Scottish matters to be determined by an elected Scottish assembly.
In his final comments the right hon. Gentleman produced the crunch of the question. In answer to my right hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison) he said "there is no answer to the West Lothian question." The right hon. Gentleman correctly quoted me as saying that there is no other territory of which I am aware that has its own legal system but which does not have a legislature to legislate exclusively for the needs of that legal system. The right hon. Gentleman will appreciate that there is no other part of the world of which I am aware where one territory in an otherwise unitary state is provided with a devolved Parliament and Government of the kind that he and the Labour party propose.
We were equally aware of that fundamental anomaly 10 years ago. The argument then was that such was the demand from the people of Scotland — and indeed of Wales — for some constitutional change, however illogical, and however much it failed to answer the fundamental point that the right hon. Gentleman today recognised, we must make that change because the break up of the Union was the inevitable alternative. I confess that to some extent I, like many others, succumbed to that argument, but I remember that we debated an amendment tabled by a Labour Member proposing that an assembly should be established only if at least 40 per cent, of the electorate of Scotland and Wales voted for such a fundamental change. I happily spoke for that amendment and voted for it. I believed then, as I believe now, that the only basis on which we can introduce and implement a constitutional anomaly with the fundamental defect that the right hon. Gentleman recognised is if there were an overwhelming demand, as the price of the Union, for such a change.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman has heard me make many speeches on devolution, and I thought that he might be grateful if someone else spoke on this occasion.
The difficulty with the extremely ingenious fleet-footed performance that we are now watching is that in the debates that have been referred to the right hon. and learned Gentleman did not appear to be saying. "I am reluctantly going along with the devolution argument because I see that there is overwhelming pressure from the people of Scotland." He was leading the argument for devolution from the Conservative Benches. With his usual cogency, he was putting forward the positive case for devolution. He cannot escape from that except by saying—and there would be nothing dishonourable about this—that he had changed his mind about the worth of the argument. He at least owes us an explanation of his reasons for changing his mind.
The hon. Gentleman should instruct his research worker to work slightly harder in reading my previous remarks on the subject. In voting for the 40 per cent, rule I said that I believed strongly that the only basis for introducing a form of devolution, which I described at the time as inherently anomalous, would be an overwhelming demand from the people of Scotland or Wales for such a change. When the referendum took place, the overwhelming majority of the Welsh people were against the proposal, and two thirds of the people of Scotland declined to vote for it.
Within 24 hours of the announcement of the results of the referendum I made it clear that I thought there was no basis for a fundamental constitutional change which the -rest of the United Kingdom did not want and to which two thirds of the people of Scotland were either indifferent or positively hostile.
In that case, how does the Secretary of State explain his remarks later in the speech that I quoted, when he said:
I do not suggest that simply because the will of the people has been established in Scotland this House must automatically accede to that demand and establish devolution. To suggest that would be to imply that this Parliament is merely a rubber stamp for popular sentiment."—[Official Report, 16 December 1976; Vol. 922, c. 1831.]
That is absolutely right. I do, indeed, take that view. The supreme objective of any Unionist is to preserve the Union. If it became clear that certain constitutional changes were required to ensure the future of the Union, whatever doubts many of my right hon. and hon. Friends and I might have, we are so attached to the Union of the United Kingdom that we would reluctantly be prepared to see those constitutional changes made. However, the referendum clearly demonstrated that that was not the case.
I congratulate the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Steel) and his hon. Friends on allowing the House to debate these matters. We have been given the privilege of seeing the amendment tabled by the Labour party, which refers to a preferential system of constitutional change and suggests that the House should address itself to the proposals put forward in the Bill presented by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar). I know that the whole House will share my sadness and surprise that the hon. Member for Garscadden is not to grace the Dispatch Box today to give us the benefit of his views. For the past few months the Labour party has sought to ensure that there is a day on which we can debate Scottish affairs, but, for various reasons on which I shall not dwell, we have not yet had such an opportunity. Against that background, the silence of the hon. Member for Garscadden is somewhat puzzling.
I would not suggest that a debate on devolution without the hon. Gentleman is like Hamlet without the Prince of Denmark, but rather that it is like Hamlet without the first gravedigger. The absence from the debate of a contribution from the hon. Gentleman—and indeed the absence of two thirds of Scottish Labour Members—is not a coincidence. It demonstrates that, as the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Etterick and Lauderdale said, the Labour party's commitment to devolution is not pursued on the grounds of any perceived national interest, but stems from a partisan and party-political point of view. The hon. Member for Garscadden wanted to lead a debate on devolution. He was deprived of that opportunity by the Liberal party, and now that he cannot be captain of the team he does not want to play.
On a whole series of matters we have seen that the Labour party, whose original commitment to devolution arose from its fear of the Scottish National party, now considers devolution merely as a means of seeking to achieve the political domination of the whole of Scotland that it presently has in Strathclyde region. [HON. MEMBERS: "NO."] If hon. Members think that that is not true, let me ask them a question. We know that one of the main differences between Labour Members and Liberal and SDP Members is on the question of proportional representation. If the hon. Member for Garscadden was required to choose between having no Scottish assembly and having an assembly elected by proportional representation, which would he choose?
As the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows, it is a false choice. His question is part of a rather unpleasant speech in which the intellectual dishonesty of his position has been absolutely apparent. The only person who will not recognise that is the right hon. and learned Gentleman himself. We have a disagreement with the Liberal party about PR, as has the right hon. and learned Gentleman. However, we have said repeatedly that what we should be doing in Scotland is working hard to achieve the assembly that we all seek. Once that has been achieved, the Scots themselves can consider the other matters involved.
The hon. Gentleman's remarks have made it abundantly clear — if we needed any further convincing—that the only assembly in which the Labour party is interested is one that it believes it can dominate. Let us be clear that this partisan approach to the affairs of Scotland and its constitutional requirements does the Labour party no credit.
I listened with great interest to the remarks of the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale. He put forward many of the general constitutional arguments that we have heard so often. Like all Opposition Members, he is required, not only to explain the attractions that might flow from the creation of an assembly from the point of view of the supervision of Scottish business, but to address himself to the consequences of the kind of devolution proposed by him and by the Labour party. Except on the question of proportional representation, there is very little difference between Labour Members and SDP and Liberal Members.
Although Liberal Members like to talk of themselves as members of a federalist party calling for a federalist option, it is clear from the terms of the motion that they realise how unrealistic that is. If they thought that there was a demand from England, Wales or elsewhere in the United Kingdom for a federal system, they would not refer to "a first step". They would call for the introduction of all the necessary provisions simultaneously. It is because they realise that, certainly in England, there is no interest whatever in the kind of federal structure that has been dear to them for so long that they end up saying that for Scotland, and for Scotland alone, there should be the creation of a devolved system of government within what is otherwise a unitary state.
Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman accept that there is a distinction between Scotland and the English regions by reason of the fact that Scotland has its own legal system?
Of course I do. That is a very obvious difference, which is reflected in the different arrangements for dealing with Scottish business which have now existed for over 100 years. The hon. and learned Gentleman and I would not be qualified practitioners of the Scottish legal system if, since the Act of Union over a quarter of a millenium ago, separate provision had not been made to reflect that requirement. The hon. and learned Gentleman knows that, and it is a very important consideration.
I am delighted to reassure the hon. Lady that I oppose the proposal before us, not because Scotland would be pioneering constitutional change, but because there is not the slightest possibility that anyone would follow Scotland. That is the fundamental point. We are talking, not about the introduction of a change, to be followed 12 months later by comparable changes for other parts of the United Kingdom, but about—
I am sorry, but I shall not give way.
Those of us who are Unionists—I mean all Members of the House other than the members of the nationalist parties—are concerned about avoiding a constitutional change that would weaken Scotland's place in the United Kingdom. The leader of the Liberal party rightly referred to my having said that devolution would not necessarily lead to the break up of the United Kingdom. I happen personally to take that view. I do not believe that it would necessarily lead to the break up of the United Kingdom, but I strongly believe that the kind of unilateral devolution that is put before us would gravely weaken Scotland's involvement and influence within the United Kingdom—its capacity to influence United Kingdom decisions that gravely affect Scotland. That must be taken into account.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman cannot keep on pretending that his change of face has occurred simply because of public opinion. Towards the end of that earlier speech he said:
I believe that these proposals will ultimately lead to a federal United Kingdom, and perhaps the quicker it comes the better."—[Official Report, 16 December 1976; Vol. 922, c. 1836.]
Yes, and that was before the referendum, which demonstrated clearly that neither within Wales nor within Scotland was there the basis for the constitutional change that the right hon. Gentleman seeks.
The Liberal party has conceded, for example, that devolution of the kind proposed would eliminate the office of Secretary of State. In that, the Liberal party is more honest than those in the Labour party who wish to continue with that office, although there will be no rule for the incumbent of that office, whether Labour or Conservative, to carry out. If one removes from any Department of State its budget, its legislative functions and its executive responsibilities, it is absurd to suggest that there can continue to be an individual who carries out that office and has any influence on matters relevant to Scottish requirements. The alliance parties are more consistent and accurate in their inevitable predictions than is the Labour party, which, as always, tries to get the best of all possible worlds and ends up with an incredible arrangement.
No doubt we shall have the benefit of the hon. Gentleman's contribution later in the debate.
As the leader of the Liberal party has acknowledged, there would be a substantial reduction in the number of Scottish Members of Parliament. That is not necessarily a fundamental issue, although clearly it would not be helpful to the advancement of Scottish interests within the United Kingdom. The most fundamental problem, which the Opposition have not even begun to address, is what used to be known as the West Lothian question. If we are talking about devolution and about 72 Scottish Members continuing to be in the House, there is no way in which the hon. Member for Garscadden, other hon. Members representing Scottish constituencies and I can expect to continue to vote on a series of matters that affect people living in England when Members from English constituencies have been deprived of a comparable right to influence those matters north of the border. The hon. Member for Garscadden knows that that is a fundamental problem which no one has been able to identify and answer.
The effect of introducing such a system is not that it would necessarily lead to the break up of the United Kingdom, but that, sooner or later, it would lead to two classes of Members in the House. All hon. Members would vote on United Kingdom issues and an attempt would be made, and ultimately be successful, to deprive hon. Members from those parts of the United Kingdom with devolved legislatures of any right to vote or participate in matters that did not affect their territory. That would produce the gravest constitutional anomaly.
We can easily anticipate a United Kingdom Government with a majority in the United Kingdom but without a majority in England. Are we to say, therefore, that their programme would be severely truncated? They would have no way of knowing which of their programmes they could carry and which they could not. When presenting their revenue proposals and asking the House to approve taxation they would have no way of knowing whether the revenue raised could be spent or whether a majority would be forthcoming for a range of their proposals.
These are not minor or peripheral matters. The leader of the Liberal party acknowledged that this was a major problem and went on to say that he had no answers. It is not responsible to say, "There is a fundamental problem. I have no answers to it. Nevertheless, I ask you to go ahead with my proposals."
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It was recognised during our discussion on devolution in previous Parliaments that the issue of devolution for Scotland, Wales and other parts of the United Kingdom was not merely a Scottish or Welsh matter, but was a matter for all of us. I have been in the House of Commons for a long time. We are discussing Scotland, but the debate also affects those of us who are English. We, too, have a point of view. I hope that hon. Members will give way to English Members, who also have a point of view on this matter.
The Secretary of State speaks as though the proposition that he has put forward is novel. Does he recall that the position is wholly unchanged from the time when he gave his support to the proposal to set up a devolved power? Does he agree that this is not a constitutional anomaly unknown to Britain and that this is clear from the fact that there have been 50 years of devolved government in Northern Ireland and the House has made no attempt to curtail the voting powers of Northern Ireland Members? There is no reason why, if Scotland enjoyed devolved government, Scottish Members should be deprived of the rights enjoyed for so long by Northern Ireland Members.
The hon. Gentleman is unwise in using that parallel. He should recollect that the establishment of an Assembly in Northern Ireland led, first, to a substantial reduction in the number of Ulster Members in the House and, secondly, to the end of the office of Chief Secretary for Ireland and the almost total removal of Ulster's ability to influence successive United Kingdom Governments over the next 50 years on matters that affected Ulster equally with the rest of the United Kingdom. It is no coincidence that it took the abolition of the Northern Ireland Assembly to recreate the position of Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in the Cabinet and increase the number of Northern Ireland Members of Parliament.
I do not doubt that if Scotland wanted to have the same influence on successive British Governments on United Kingdom issues involving the economy, defence, industrial relations, taxation, and so on as Ulster Members of Parliament and the Province had on those Governments over the past 60 years, a Scottish assembly might be tolerable. If that is the degree of influence in Scotland that the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland wants as a Scottish Member and a Unionist, by all means let him quote that parallel. If he believes that that would be disastrous to Scotland's ability to ensure that its interests were fully represented around the United Kingdom Cabinet table and in the United Kingdom House of Commons, he must realise that the Irish precedent is damaging to his cause and in no way helps it.
The precedent is even more damning than that. The leader of the Liberal party wants proportional representation, so presumably he wants 10 fewer Scottish Members than there are in the House. Scotland is over-represented on the basis of proportional representation, and we now know that the acting leader of one section of the Social Democrats wants even that number reduced still more if the motion is passed. Perhaps by the time my right hon. and learned Friend sits down the alliance parties will have decided between them by how many they want Scottish representation in the House reduced if the motion is passed.
My hon. Friend is correct. The alliance parties have publicly committed themselves to a reduction in Scottish parliamentary representation, to the ending of the office of Secretary of State for Scotland and to a reliance on other measures to ensure that Scotland's interests are properly represented by future United Kingdom Governments.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman has been making great play of what was called the West Lothian question. He is, of course, entitled to do that. It is undoubtedly a problem, which he is greatly exaggerating. The right hon. and learned Gentleman talks about strain. Does he accept that many people in Scotland feel that a group of politicians who do not command anything like a substantial section of support in Scotland and who fall far short of a winning position in Scottish elections totally control our domestic legislation? Does that not put a strain on the structure of the United Kingdom, which should be removed by a devolution settlement?
Finally — I should like to press the right hon. and learned Gentleman on this—if the test is not his own personal opinion and the views that he apparently argued so fiercely in the late 1970s, but merely the state of public opinion, will he hold a referendum on devolution to ascertain public opinion in Scotland at the moment?
I advise the hon. Gentleman to read the speech that he made so courageously a couple of days ago. It is strange to hear him suggest today that we should concede devolution because the Government have limited authority in Scotland because of their weak political position there. The hon. Gentleman was courageous enough to warn his hon. Friends and his party that such an argument could be used by Members of the Scottish National party, but not by anyone belonging to a Unionist party, such as the Labour party. The hon. Gentleman must appreciate that and stick to his argument, because it is fundamental to his entire political philosophy.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman is woefully misinterpreting my position on this issue. I have always said that devolution is a way of strengthening the United Kingdom by proving that our system can respond to the special needs of Scotland. We want a greater say over Scottish affairs within the framework of the United Kingdom. That has been the Labour party's position through good and bad times, and we shall stand by it, because we believe in it. I suggest that the right hon. and learned Gentleman tries standing by his ideas also.
I had not appreciated that the Labour party would have two Front-Bench spokesmen today. However, we are grateful for the hon. Gentleman's views and wait to see whether they coincide with those of his hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Max ton).
Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that many of us in England feel precisely as do the Scots about support from the Government? Is he aware that many of us honestly feel that if the Scots decided, perhaps wrongly, on UDI, some of us, representing places such as Liverpool, would be only too keen to join them, because we are fed up that the Government take no notice of the people in Scotland, or in the north-east and northwest of England? The Government do not give a damn about our problems, which is why the demand for devolution is rising in Scotland and elsewhere. If the Government were really concerned about the people in this country as a whole, they would take notice of us and deal with our problems in a sensible manner.
The hon. Gentleman is right to point out that most of the issues that concern the electorate in Scotland concern also the electorate in England, in Wales and throughout the United Kingdom. Few hon. Members believe that constitutional change is the answer to those problems.
There is another fundamental point to which the leader of the Liberal party hardly drew attention, but which his proposals and those of the Labour party would bring about if their schemes were implemented and which was not true 10 years ago. I refer to the power of taxation. Both the Labour party and the alliance parties propose that a Scottish assembly should have a power to what is euphemistically referred to as vary the power of taxation, which we all know means to increase it. We have heard again and again from the Labour party that if an assembly had been created it could have given extra help to this, that and the other interests that they claim have been deprived of such help over the last few years. That clearly means that they would have used such a power of taxation to increase the level of taxes and the burden of taxation in Scotland. Essentially, what is being proposed is that people in Scotland should continue to pay the same level of taxation as everywhere else, plus an additional level of taxation, which will not be levied in England or elsewhere in the United Kingdom, and which is supposed to be of benefit to the Scottish economy.
It can be of little surprise that the overwhelming view of those in industry, and commerce, and of those involved in attracting investment to Scotland, is that such a proposition would do enormous damage to jobs, investment and that country's economic interests. Professor John Shaw, the executive director of Scottish Financial Enterprise, who is seeking to attract new investment and new institutions into Scotland, has said publicly that he believes that such a proposal would damage intensely the efforts that he and his colleagues are making. The Confederation of British Industry in Scotland, representing industry, has said that it believes that such a proposal would be devastating for employment and for the prospects of the Scottish economy. We know that the chambers of commerce and the Institute of Directors have expressed similar views. Those are facts which hon. Members must take into account.
No, I shall not give way, because many other hon. Members wish to take part in the debate and I have already given way on many occasions.
In the short term, the single most damaging element of the proposals that have been put forward, which we have been told are an improvement on the proposals of 10 years ago, is that the leader of the Liberal party knows that his proposals have been rejected by Scottish industry and by those who seek to bring new investment and employment to Scotland.
Finally, I shall deal briefly with the suggestion that, despite all the anomalies and problems, we must recognise the demand for devolution that we are told exists in Scotland, notwithstanding the result of the referendum that was held eight or nine years ago.—[HON. MEMBERS: "What about the general election?"] I have just been asked to take account of the result of the general election. I refer hon. Members to the fact that we are constantly told that various opinion polls, which have been reported in the press, tell us that devolution is the wish of the Scottish people.
The leader of the Liberal party referred to various MORI polls that have appeared in The Scotsman. I refer him to the poll that appeared on 15 May this year, only a couple of weeks before the general election. People were asked:
What do you think are the two most important election issues?
We were informed that unemployment featured in the responses of 63 per cent., the National Health Service in 29 per cent., pensions in 22 per cent., education in 16 per cent., inflation in 14 per cent., defence in 13 per cent., housing in 11 per cent., law and order in 10 per cent., disarmament in 9 per cent., taxation in 9 per cent., social services in 7 per cent., the community charge in 7 per cent., rates and rents in 4 per cent, and devolution in 4 per cent. Therefore, 96 per cent, of those who were asked did not believe that they were voting on the subject of devolution. If it is of any comfort to Opposition Members, that 4 per cent, represents exactly double the number who responded in that way three months earlier, when the figure was only 2 per cent. Perhaps opinion is moving in their direction.
In that case, the hon. Gentleman should not have asked.
I must advise Opposition Members that few hon. Members believe that the issue of devolution affected the votes of more than a handful of people at the election in Scotland. This poll, so beloved of Opposition Members, shows that 96 per cent, were concerned with issues that are equally relevant to people in England, Wales and other parts of the United Kingdom. It is on that basis that we reject the motion and ask the House to support our amendment.
Before I turn to what I must describe as that rather poor speech by the Secretary of State — a speech that was unprincipled, shameless and, for him, lacking in his normal logic—I should like to say something about the motion tabled by the Liberal party. However, first I should say that my hon. Friends and I welcome the debate. It is right that the House should debate devolution on as many issues and as many times as possible. The Labour party has put devolution and the Scottish assembly back on the agenda and we welcome the Liberal party's attempt to climb on the bandwagon and stage this debate. I assure the Secretary of State that, far from being upstaged by the Liberal party, we intend to have a debate on our Bill before Christmas.
I cannot advise my hon. Friends to support the Liberal motion. The Labour party, as the majority party in Scotland, fully supports devolution and has the right to put that principle before the House. We are not prepared to support a proposal for devolution which contains proportional representation because we do not believe that it will serve the interests of Scotland or those of the rural communities which so concern alliance Members. The right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Steel) has an electorate of some 37,000. His hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) has a constituency of some 30,000, as has the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan). Our system of two assembly members for each of the present constituencies will give a larger proportion of seats for the rural areas than would proportional representation. On the simple facts of population, that must be so.
Is not the alliance misleading the electorate into thinking that proportional representation means a redistribution from the urban to the rural areas, when it is purely about redistribution between parties and the rural areas will suffer significantly? Does he agree that it is wrong to mislead the people of Scotland in that way?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We seek a firm commitment from the Liberals that they will support our proposals. The Labour party is the majority party in Scotland and they should throw their weight behind our proposals and not muddy the water with extraneous matters such as proportional representation. We cannot support the motion because it is unamendable and Mr. Speaker in his wisdom has decided not to call our amendment. The hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood), however, has a ten-minute Bill later this week. I shall support that Bill and I suggest that many of my hon. Friends will do so because if that Bill is given a Second Reading we can then amend it to take out proportional representation. [Interruption.] Liberal Members may laugh, but that makes perfect constitutional sense. We cannot amend the motion, but we can amend a Bill because the Labour party is the majority party in Scotland. The leader of the Liberal party may think that a joke, but he did not make the position clear in his speech. The Secretary of State should have asked the right hon. Gentleman rather than the Labour party about proportional representation. The right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale, who has been constantly supported by his hon. Friend the Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Sir R. Johnston), made it clear in an article in "Radical Scotland" that proportional representation was a prerequisite of devolution and that the Liberal party would not support any devolution measure which did not include proportional representation. That is the Liberal party position and the leader of that party should have made it clear today.
As for the Secretary of State and his attack on the Labour party in relation to proportional representation, if he is making a firm offer to the House of a devolution measure including proportional representation, we shall consider it carefully. Personally, I would support the principle of such a measure and seek to amend it by taking out proportional representation. If, on the other hand, the Secretary of State was merely using proportional representation as a cheap debating point, his comment is not worthy of consideration.
The Secretary of State made a generally cheap speech. He has clearly forgotten any principles that he once had. He now says that he does not really believe in devolution at all. He used to be known as the liberal Tory, but he has moved dramatically to the right on nearly all issues and nowhere more spectacularly than on devolution. He squirmed about trying to give reasons for changing his principles and giving up devolution, but there is only one real reason. The Prime Minister is not a devolutionist and the Secretary of State on every occasion puts his position in the Cabinet above his principles on devolution or the interests of the people of Scotland. There is no other explanation.
In one debate after another in the past, the Secretary of State said that he believed in the principle of devolution. During the Report stage of the 1978 Bill he said:
Many of us on both sides of the House have believed for a long time that there is a majority in Scotland who want devolution."—[Official Report, 15 February 1978; Vol. 944, c. 595.][Interruption.] He now says that they were wrong, but in an interview reported in The Sunday Times on 21 June this year the right hon. Gentleman is quoted as follows:
Sooner or later, if there is a genuine demand for constitutional change in any part of the United Kingdom, that is something that a democratic party like the Conservative party always listens to and responds to.
That statement was made not in 1978 but this year, just after the general election, under the headline "Rifkind 'prepared to consider devolution'."
How much more evidence does the Secretary of State want of the demand for devolution? Whatever he may say, the majority of people who voted in the referendum in 1979 voted in favour of devolution. The opponents of devolution insisted on the 40 per cent, rule, although every election before and since has been based on a straight majority. The referendum showed that there was an overwhelming demand for devolution. In the 1979 general election, the Labour party increased the number of seats that it held while the Conservative shadow Secretary of State, who had made opposition to devolution a major plank in the Conservative campaign, lost his seat. In the 1983 election, the Labour party again improved its position. In 1987, the Tory vote collapsed to a mere 24 per cent, and the Conservatives lost 11 seats. Every other party in Scotland, in all those elections and especially in 1987, had devolution not just as part of their campaigns but as a major plank in their campaigns.
The Labour party and the alliance certainly did that and the SNP was more in favour of independence than devolution but was prepared to support it. Those three parties, who represent 76 per cent, of Scottish voters in the last general election, had devolution as a major plank in their campaigns. Opinion poll after opinion poll said that the Scottish people wanted devolution. Our canvasses in Kincardine and Garscadden since the election give us the same figure—75 per cent, to 76 per cent, have voted yes to devolution.
What evidence does the Secretary of State need? Why does he say that there is no demand? He bases that statement on one opinion poll. I apologise to the right hon. Gentleman if it was two opinion polls rather than one. It would not stand up at a by-election, a local election or a general election. Opinion polls have consistently said that the Scottish people want nothing to do with the Tory party and want devolution so that the Scottish assembly can govern its own affairs. What will the Secretary of State do about it? If he says that there is no evidence whatsoever that the Scottish people want devolution, I challenge him to test that, to put his money where his principles used to be, and hold another referendum. Let him put the principle of devolution to the Scottish people.
The hon. Gentleman has not been here during any of the debate. He cannot walk in 10 minutes into my speech and expect to intervene.
I will guarantee, and I am sure that my hon. Friends and the alliance will do the same, that if the Secretary of State brings a Bill before the House for a referendum in Scotland on devolution, we will allow it through without any opposition whatsoever. We want to see the result of such a referendum. I challenge the Secretary of State to do it. He will not, because he knows that he will lose dramatically. That is the overwhelming question for the Secretary of State to answer.
I always knew that the Liberal party puts proportional representation above the principles of devolution. The hon. Member has just proved that yet again. [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."] That is up to the Secretary of State. However, I must say that the evidence of the last three general elections shows that the people of Scotland would reject proportional representation, as during the past three general elections they rejected the parties that supported proportional representation. If the Secretary of State is prepared to hold a referendum, I and my party will accept the verdict of the people of Scotland. Why cannot the Secretary of State do the same? Why is he not prepared to accept that there is a case for devolution? The people of Scotland want it, and he should test their opinion.
We must again put on record the arguments for devolution. The overwhelming one is that the majority of Scottish people feel that they are not properly represented in the House, and do not get a fair deal from this Parliament. When we have a Conservative Government in power with a tiny minority of hon. Members in Scotland. Scottish people get policies that they do not want. We have to accept, even though we are not separatists, that there is an element of Scottish nationalism in the debate. The people of Scotland feel that they are Scots first and Britons second. They do not feel that they are Scots and not Britons. That is recognised in a separate Scottish legislation, a Scottish legal system, a Scottish housing system, a Scottish local government system, and a Secretary of State for Scotland. All that is recognised. We do not have recognition of that on a democratic and political level. Scotland should be recognised as a nation within the United Kingdom and part and parcel of the political scene. I think that the Secretary of State used to believe in that.
We must recognise that already there is a massive amount of devolution. It is constitutional devolution— legislation goes through this House that applies only to Scotland. The Scottish Office represents eight Departments at United Kingdom level. It has a Civil Service, 98 per cent, of which lives and works in Scotland, not London. Scotland is largely administered separately from the remainder of the United Kingdom. However, what Scotland does not have — and it is not the West Lothian question, or perhaps the Cathcart question; I do not care what it is called—is the bureaucratic structure required by that level of administrative devolution so that the views of the Scottish people can be represented and so that they can control their affairs. Even without the current political position, there should still be that level of political and democratic devolution.
How absurd it is, and how more pressing is the need for devolution, when the Secretary of State with his Ministers — now only four, rather than five — and five Back Benchers — [Interruption.]The right hon. and learned Gentleman could not find a fifth Minister—
Well, perhaps one among the five Back Benchers is disappointed that he was not returned to ministerial office. The Government have five Scottish Back Benchers who are opposed by 50 Labour Members, nine alliance Members — or whatever they are called now — and three SNP Members. The Tory party is a very small minority in Scotland. That is where the real constitutional question arises. It is not the West Lothian question.
I do not necessarily think that the West Lothian question would cause problems in the short term. Although I believe in Scottish devolution on its own, I also believe that we should decentralise the United Kingdom as a whole. Bit by bit, areas of England would want control over their affairs and, like Scotland, could have it, even if in a different format. The real pressure on our constitution is not the West Lothian question at some future assembly, but the fact that the Secretary of State represents a rump of opinion in Scotland and forces upon the Scottish people policies that they do not want—for example, in education, housing and local government, and with the privatisation of the electricity industry and the poll tax. Nobody in Scotland wants those policies. The people of Scotland have clearly rejected them.
Why should Scotland be governed by a Secretary of State—as the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale said, more or less the Prime Minister of Scotland — who is not elected? Indeed, rather than a Prime Minister, the right hon. and learned Gentleman is more like a governor-general.
That question shows that the Secretary of State fails to understand the British constitution. There is no English Department of state in the United Kingdom. There are British Departments of state and there are Irish, Scottish and Welsh Offices. That is the constitution, but the right hon. and learned Gentleman always fails to understand it.
The hon. Gentleman must not try to obfuscate. He knows that, with the exception of 1945 and 1966, no Labour Government since the war have had a majority of English Members of Parliament. Yet no Labour Government or Labour Member accepted that they did not have a moral right to implement policies in England that had not been endorsed by the English electorate. If the hon. Gentleman wants to make a point about the current political position and believes it to be a constitutional issue of principle, why does he not apply that same principle south of the border?
I do not know why the right hon. and learned Gentleman intervened again, because I thought that I had just answered that question. I repeat that, constitutionally, there are no English Departments, only a United Kingdom Administration.
It is the anomalous position of the Conservative party and its administration in Scotland that is putting a strain on our constitution, not some future problem of an assembly and the so-called West Lothian — or Linlithgow—question. If the Secretary of State had any principles he would say to the Prime Minister, "I cannot govern Scotland; I do not have sufficient Members of Parliament to do so. As a democrat, I am not prepared to impose my will upon the Scottish people who do not want me and, therefore, if you want to keep the unity of the United Kingdom, we must give Scotland a Scottish assembly." That is what a democrat would say.
The Bill that the Labour party has presented is sensible, well-thought out and worked through in some detail. The people of Scotland have been consulted about it. Unlike any other party, we have our proposals on the table where people can see them. They are the proposals that the people of Scotland want. They do not want this Government. I call upon my right hon. and hon. Friends to vote against the Government's wrecking amendment on the principle of devolution.
The hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) is to be congratulated on at least keeping a straight face during his quite considerable and remarkable intellectual contortions, especially his position on the Bill put forward by the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood).
The debate so far has highlighted two points. First, its timing—and I congratulate the alliance—is a piece of parliamentary one-upmanship for the Liberal party, which neatly slipped in ahead of the proposed debate on the Labour party's Bill. The Labour party eventually managed to table its Bill, the original date for that having been overtaken by the ambitions of English Labour Members to push Scottish business off the Order Paper. The debate has shown that the so-called pro-devolution forces are hopelessly split. The entire debate on the Opposition Benches has been an argument between the Labour and the Liberal parties. There is no consensus on devolution.
As the hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart) is talking about divisions, perhaps he will tell the House where his right hon. Friend the Member for Kincardine and Deeside (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) is?
I am not responsible for the movements of my right hon. Friend. I am responsible for the movements of the hon. Member for Eastwood.
The second point shown by the debate—the leader of the Liberal party was honest about this — is that federalism is not on offer as a practical solution or plan. The right hon. Gentleman made it clear that Scotland should be first and that some form of devolution on an undefined time scale would follow for the rest of the United Kingdom. That is an important point. The Liberal party has not suggested a scheme of multilateral devolution covering the United Kingdom, but a single scheme for Scotland.
Much has been said about the motivation for a Scottish assembly. It is unquestionably popular with the chattering classes opposite. Naturally, it is popular with many politicians who see it as another avenue of jobs for the boys. For that reason, it is also popular with many people in the press. But the Labour party's motivation for a Scottish assembly has fundamentally changed. It is now seen to be designed, clearly and unequivocally, as a permanent Socialist power base which would challenge Westminster. That is why the hon. Member for Cathcart is sticking so firmly to his guns.
I have given way three times and many hon. Members wish to speak.
I now wish to deal with the number of hon. Members and their role. The leader of the Liberal party said, very honestly, that, if there were a Scottish assembly, the number of Scottish Members would have to be reduced to about 55 on a population basis. Logically, the reduction should be greater than that on the precedent of Northern Ireland, when Stormont existed, as there were then fewer Northern Ireland Members than would be justified on a population basis. That may be a point of detail, but what is not a point of detail, despite the fact that the Opposition tried to wriggle out of it, is the so-called West Lothian question. That matter is neither trivial nor theoretical.
Let us take the only plausible scenario as envisaged by the Labour party—a Labour Government which would try to deliver devolution. There would be 72 Scottish Members and all precedents, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State said, suggest that Labour would depend for its majority in this House on Scottish Members. The House is being asked, therefore, to agree to a situation in which Scottish and English Members would have no right to legislate on Scottish domestic legislation, but Scottish Members would have a right to vote decisively on English legislation against the wishes of the majority of English Members. I do not believe for a moment that that would be acceptable. The Labour party, in its heart of hearts, should admit that.
In the motion the Liberal party suggests a system of single tier local government in Scotland. I do not believe that moving from the present system to a single tier system would reduce expenditure. Every authority would need to have a chief constable and a director of education. I ask Opposition Members such as the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell): do they imagine that Fife, North-East would survive as a separate district council under a single-tier system? Of course, it would not and nor would Eastwood district council in my constituency, doubtless to the delight of the hordes of Socialists in surrounding areas. If the Liberal party is to pursue the idea of a single-tier system it will wipe out many small district councils which do a perfectly good and responsible job on behalf of their electorate.
Does not the hon. Gentleman admit that smaller districts such as Eastwood are an anomaly? The people who live in the districts are almost all commuters into Glasgow. They commute for business, pleasure and leisure. They use Glasgow district council's facilities but pay not one penny towards them. Is that not an anomaly that ought to be recognised?
I wholly reject the hon. Gentleman's assertions but I shall ensure that his comments are fully published in the Eastwood Mercury and the Eastwood Extra.
There are more fundamental questions. A Scottish assembly within a unitary state is a recipe for conflict between that assembly and Westminster. There would be a block grant to the assembly. Inevitably, every assembly man would say "It is not enough for my project and the reason why we cannot obtain a school extension is the miserliness of Westminster."
There would be revenue-raising powers under the proposals of the Liberal and the Labour parties. However, let us not be deluded as to what that would mean for the direction in which the levels of taxation would go. Of course, taxation would go up. No one could seriously suggest that taxation would go down. If the assembly had power over income tax that would go up. — [Interruption.]Despite the rumbles from Opposition Members, no one could believe other than that the Labour party wants an assembly with tax-raising powers in order to put up taxes.
We do not call Scottish assembly members "assembly persons"; we call them Scottish assembly Members—SAMs. Tax-raising powers mean the ability to vary tax. The hon. Gentleman is trying to maintain that that would always mean that there would be increases in tax. I am sure that the current Administration would wish to cut taxes and reduce services if they were to obtain power in Scotland. Therefore, is not the hon. Gentleman's assertion that taxes will always increase an implicit assumption that the Conservatives will never gain power in Scotland? Is not the Conservative party opposed to the assembly on political grounds?
I am describing the ambitions of the Labour party for a Scottish assembly. The hon. Gentleman can hardly deny that the ambitions for an assembly would include an increase in the level of tax. Indeed, there is a clear disincentive in the Labour party's legislation for an assembly ever to endeavour to reduce taxes.
The Leader of the Opposition once said:
Devolution reform will not provide a factory, a machine or jobs.
That is true. The assembly is a convenient panacea for every ill and every grievance, real or imagined. People say, "Wait until we have an assembly. That will solve the problems." In fact, it is a recipe for confusion, conflict and for placing the House in a position of immense constitutional difficulty.
I welcome this debate because the more the people of Scotland are faced with the realities of how an assembly would work and the more they are faced with the detailed questions as to what would happen, the more the support will evaporate and the more indifference will become opposition to such damaging proposals for Scotland and the United Kingdom as a whole.
The hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart) has basically described the politics of fear. He did not come up with one constructive approach to the problems faced by the people of Scotland: the people of Scotland have to be frightened that there might be an increase in income tax; the people of Scotland have got to be afraid that there might be a reduction in the number of Scottish Members and that Scottish Members will be able to vote on English legislation while English Members will not be able to vote on similar legislation for Scotland. I have to tell the hon. Member for Eastwood that I have seldom heard a politician from Scotland who is so out of touch with the electorate in Scotland. None of those issues—I am speaking to my hon. Friends as well — will frighten the people of Scotland against the background of the terrible suffering that they have been subjected to since 1979.
I ungrudgingly give my thanks to the alliance for raising this subject today. It is important that we should use every opportunity on the Floor of the House to ventilate these serious constitutional problems. They are not matters of fun or jokes. The subject should be treated seriously, not in the way that it was treated by the Secretary of State. I give my thanks to the alliance for raising this issue on its Supply day.
I shall never leave the Labour party, but if some day I were to have a brain seizure and had to choose between the alliance and the Conservative party, I can tell the hon. and learned Gentleman that I would not have any difficulty in making the choice.
Having given my thanks to the alliance for raising the subject, I have to say, honestly and sincerely, that I cannot support the motion that has been put before the House. It appears that the alliance has made proportional representation a prerequisite for all that it seeks. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) that, rightly or wrongly — I may be misjudging the alliance—the most important aspect of its policy is to secure proportional representation and that all other things fall into place after that. I cannot possibly accept that proposition.
The right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Steel) and I remember when the House reformed Scottish local government in 1972–73. Hon. Members and Scottish people are inclined to forget that we had district councils, town councils, county councils, joint boards and all the rest of it. We moved from that three-tier system to the present two-tier system. I leave that as a mark of history to illustrate the point that, when we moved to the two-tier system, we halved the number of Scottish councils and doubled our bureaucracy. In other words, we reduced by 50 per cent, the democratically elected input into Scottish local government and, at the same time, doubled the number of bureaucrats. That has had a profound effect on local government not only in Scotland but, I suspect, throughout the rest of the United Kingdom where that system was adopted.
I am inevitably led to the conclusion that moving to a one-tier system, albeit with an elected assembly to preside over it, will further reduce the democratic input into local government. It would take a great deal to persuade me to favour a single-tier system of local government in Scotland. My position is quite clear. I could not possibly support the proposition. There are elements of the proposition that I can accept, but, because of the grounds that I have mentioned, I shall not accept it as a whole.
I may have been here too long and I am getting old, but, eight years ago, along with my hon. Friends, I would have been angry at the Secretary of State's speech. Today I feel nothing but pity for the man. I saw a man who had lost every ounce of credibility that he had ever built up in the Scottish political scene. I saw him throw away any integrity that he had in Scottish politics. It is not surprising that Scottish people have no respect for the Secretary of State for Scotland. The people of Scotland are not to blame for that; the Secretary of State has brought it upon his own head. Perhaps I should not say it—I may regret it later—but I find it difficult to understand how those who are charged with the responsibility of working for the Secretary of State can have any respect for him. He is a disgrace to himself and to Scotland. Today he argued that we in Scotland have separate education, housing and legal systems. I ask my right hon. and hon. Friends not to take that argument for granted. We should not believe for a moment that the Scottish Office is not doing something about devolution. The Government and the Scottish Office are removing differences. Soon we shall not see any difference between the Scottish and English education systems.
For example, last week the Government put forward a proposal to start testing primary 4 and primary 7 children. That is alien to everything that we believe in Scotland, but it is completely consistent with almost everything that happens in England. The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, the hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth), has put forward a proposition in relation to school boards.
He is probably at another meeting, trying to sell his proposals. I hope that he stays there.
The hon. Member for Stirling has peddled his propositions throughout the length and breadth of Scotland, including some of the strongest Tory areas in his constituency. Never once in all his campaigning has he gained majority support at any meeting. That will not deter him. He will bring forward propositions in the form of legislation and will remove another difference in our education system.
The Minister with responsibility for housing and planning in Scotland will reply to the debate. One could not imagine a more inoffensive, innocuous person. He would not hurt a fly. He will introduce housing proposals that, again, are completely alien to established Scottish housing policy. We talk about differences in our education, housing and legal systems. Down here, the Government are doing it the other way. England will move to an independent procurator fiscal system, to be in line with the Scottish system. Before this Parliament is finished, the differences will be unrecognisable. People will say, "Why do you want devolution? There is no difference between what happens in England and Scotland." We will have lost all our traditions in Scotland.
I am fond of the hon. Gentleman, but he has got almost everything wrong. First, the Government have already introduced a separate Crown prosecution service in England. Secondly, that service is not working properly because they do not understand how to run it. Thirdly, the Home Secretary was keen to support Mr. Roy Jenkins, who got the credit for imitating what had been the characteristics of the law in Scotland for 500 years, such as the right of the defence to speak last, majority verdicts and a few other things. Let not the hon. Gentleman talk about the law in Scotland.
I have never been able to take in on the spur of the moment anything that the hon. and learned Gentleman says. If he does not object, I shall read his remarks tomorrow and make sure that I understand exactly what he said. I should not like the hon. and learned Gentleman or anyone else to divert me from the few brief points that I shall make.
I have been pursuing my line of argument to convince my right hon. and hon. Friends that the Government are doing something about devolution. They are removing differences in education and housing and making Scotland the same as almost any other area in England. What is even worse is the Government's callous disregard for the people of Scotland, which has brought about the tensions that we are discussing.
Let us examine what happened at the last election. Defeated Tory Members of Parliament now find themselves in some of the most influential offices in Government. I refer to Peter Fraser. His electors rejected him, and the Prime Minister immediately appointed him as Solicitor-General, with a much bigger salary than he had when he was Solicitor-General in the Government. There was evidence of that at the previous election when Hamish Gray, now Lord Gray of Contin, was defeated by an SDP candidate, the hon. Member for Ross, Cromarty and Skye (Mr. Kennedy). Almost the day after his defeat, he was appointed Minister of State, Scottish Office, which was a calculated insult to the people of Scotland.
On Friday, I listened to a BBC lunchtime radio programme in which the leader of the Liberal party, the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale, took part. Also on that programme was Michael Ancram, who, while working for the BBC, has written a position paper on devolution. The phrase "position paper" simply means that the Government are not going to do anything. Mr. Ancram said on that programme that if we achieved devolution in Scotland it would become another Northern Ireland. Also on the programme was Michael Jenkin, who visited Scotland during the last election. He is the son of Patrick Jenkin, now Lord Jenkin, who used to be a Member, so I excuse him on the basis that he suffers from inherited stupidity. However, there is no excuse for Michael Ancram, because his comment about Scotland becoming another Northern Ireland was a deliberate insult to the people of Scotland.
As my hon. Friend said, it is frightening. At the conclusion of the debate, the Minister has an obligation to dissociate both the Tory party in Scotland and the Government from that remark. If he does not, the Tory party in Scotland and the Government will be just as culpable as Michael Ancram.
Whatever discussion and debate takes place in the House, one thing is inevitable: we will have a devolved Parliament in Scotland in one form or another, and the form of that devolved Parliament will depend much on the reaction and approach of the Government. I vehemently oppose the proposition of the SDP. The Liberal party is in favour of a federal solution. I believe that there are strong arguments in favour of the proposals of the Labour party, published last week. However, there is no argument for standing still, for no change or for letting everything go on and making the people of Scotland suffer as they have suffered over the past nine or 10 years.
Many questions have been raised about the Linlithgow/West Lothian problem. The proposition that there is no solution to that problem is a proposition that devolution will stop at Scotland. I do not accept that. I share the view of my right hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Millan) that, once we have devolution in Scotland, we will lead the way and that the United Kingdom Parliament will become a devolved Parliament. In that event, the West Lothian/Linlithgow problem will not arise.
If Conservative Members, whether they represent Scottish or English constituencies, think that the solutions to the problems in Scotland can await a solution to the problems in England and Wales, they should think again. Time is not on our side. The Government have a crucial role to play. If Scotland goes down the road proposed by the SNP—
The hon. Member for Eastwood is now on record as indicating that he prefers separation to devolution. He is nodding his head in agreement. It will not be the persuasive arguments of the SNP that will take us down that road; it will be due to the fact that the Tory party in Scotland has insulted the people of Scotland to such an extent that they are not prepared to accept any more. The responsibility for any extreme measures taken by the people of Scotland will not be—
I mean separation. The hon. Gentleman should contain himself. I allowed him to intervene because I could see that he was getting excited. If the people of Scotland go down that extreme road, the Secretary of State for Scotland, his Ministers and those Scottish Tories who sit on their hands and say, "We will rub this into the people of Scotland", will be responsible.
I shall not embarrass the right hon. Member for Kincardine and Deeside (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) by quoting the speech that he made at the weekend, but if Conservative Members will not pay attention to me— and I do not complain about that — they should pay attention to what their right hon. Friend said at Banchory on Friday: that, at best, the Tory party's policies are an insult to the people of Scotland and, at worst, they are irrelevant. The quicker the Government get off their hands and grant us a Scottish assembly, the quicker we will get on with the job of rebuilding the Scottish economy.
It is difficult to follow a speech of such vitriolic meaningless-ness. I pay a deserved tribute to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) for his honesty and bravery in saying on television at the weekend that the purpose of our assembly, whether it is devolved or whether it is in Westminster, is to entertain democratic debate. I believe in all honesty and sincerity that his words should be welcomed by all hon. Members in our democratic Parliament. I hope that I do not embarrass the hon. Gentleman by saying that I think he gave a message to all of us to pause and be wise, and to discuss our affairs with responsibility and restraint.
I hope that the next Speaker will not be the hon. Gentleman.
Nobody is more informed than the leader of whatever party it is at the moment, the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Steel) about the future government of Scotland. However, it is quite obvious from his speech that he has not read the debates of 1706. [HON. MEMBERS: "The hon. and learned Gentleman was there."] Labour Members should take this seriously. If they listen, they may learn something. None of those who claim to speak for Scotland know where the Gordons were in that debate. It was clear that the leader of the Liberal party had not read the debate. If he had done so, he could have answered my question. We should be accurate when dealing with the historical position of Scotland.
I am able to comprehend the attitude of the Scottish National party. It says that it wants to return to a unitary state in Scotland, but that did not exist in 1707. That was created by General Wade after 1745. The concept of a unitary state in Scotland is a fantasy. It is something that did not exist during the period to which the SNP wants to return. In those days Scotland was populated by Scots, but that is no longer the position. Scotland is half populated now by Irish people and greatly populated by English people. There are many races in Scotland. It is no longer the homeland for the Scots. Let us be humble in our concept of the quiescent right of a people. There are 10 times as many Scots outside Scotland as in it. There are 10 times as many Scots in Holland as there are in Scotland. In Canada — [Interruption.] Opposition Members who say "Havers, man!" should consult the telephone directory for Schravenhagen to ascertain the number of MacKays who are living in that area.
We falsify history if we imagine that what was a thing of the past should be a thing of the future. We shall not return to Wessex, Northumbria and Mercia. We shall not return to a Europe before the movement of the Goths, the Visigoths and the Huns.
There is a romantic fantasy about the kingdom of Scotland. The kingdom was united with England after seven previous attempts had been made to achieve that unity —[Interruption.] It is obvious to me (hat Opposition Members are neither interested in the history of Scotland nor know anything about it. However, they claim to speak for Scotland.
The hon. and learned Gentleman has said that half the population of Scotland are Irish. For how long do people have to be in Scotland before he is prepared to consider them as Scots? Is everybody to be judged and divided according to ethnic origins?
The industrial revolution of Scotland could never have happened but for the potato famine in Ireland, when cheap labour from Ireland was responsible for the building of Glasgow. I am not saying that a person who has been in a country other than his own for a long time cannot be regarded as a member of the country in which he is living. I merely say that the idea of a homeland for those who are purely Scots is a fallacy.
I shall give way in a moment.
I thought that the speech of the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Steel) was facile and fatuous. Let us take the concept—[Interruption.] If Opposition Members were interested in the advice given to them, they would listen. There is the concept that regional government must lead to political representation. I can understand the historic concept of the SNP although I do not agree with it, but it must be tested. The capital of Scotland used to be in Perthshire. That is where the Scottish kings were crowned. Perthshire is ruled in this place by Conservative Members. The Liberal party advances a federal principle. Is it saying that we should restore the grand kingdom of Perth? Is it the idea that we should have the kingdom of Fife? If we find that there are political differences, is it right that we should have the kingdom of Inverskiething and the barony of Fordell as separate political institutions? We must understand the arguments that are being advanced—[Interruption.]
When a political argument is lost, what national, regional or other excuses can be made in ascertaining whether there is a small part of the line-up, as it were, that can be made one's own behind what is called devolution, which those who are familiar with Latin will understand is a winding down?
Let us be clear of the effect that devolution would have on Scotland. Indeed, my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State has made the position clear. Scotland has a population of 5·5 million and a huge land surface when compared to that of the rest of the United Kingdom, and it is expensive. Scotland enjoys £127 per head for every £100 that is spent on those south of the border. Scotland has roads and transport facilities which those south of the border do not enjoy. To talk about the problems of Scotland being greater than those of the south-east of England is to draw a false political conclusion.
My right hon. and learned Friend has said that devolution would add to government. I do not know any elector who wants more government or who wants to get closer to it. I do not know anyone who wants more taxation and not less. If the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mrs. Michie), who is shaking her head, had been in the House at the time, would she have voted that the 2p reduction in income tax should not have been introduced and that the moneys that were to be forgone by the Treasury should have been directed instead to the unemployed? How many Liberals have sent back that rise?
As the hon. Gentleman says, we should post early for Christmas, because his beloved unions will stop the post altogether.
Scotland is a small country. It is no good the neurologist, the hon. Member for Strathkelvin and Bearsden (Mr. Galbraith), shaking his head—
The electors of Edinburgh, Strathclyde, Tayside and Dundee know that they would suffer from increased taxation. However, there is a belief that it would be nice to have a toy, a Government of our own, but, once we had, it would quickly go to the back of the toy cupboard. Socialism is not about providing services; it is about providing bureaucracy, and making other people pay for what Labour Members want to be popular. That is what Socialism is about and that is what Scotland would be about.
As someone who understands and has bothered to read the history of Scotland, which mocking Labour Members have not, I do not want our independent nation to be a place in which Socialists can hold power. As the hon. Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Ewing) said, the Labour party is threatened by our reforms in education and housing because the last Socialist grip on the political scene in Scotland will be abolished. If the hon. Gentleman seriously imagines that those reforms will do other than improve education and housing, he is wrong.
We are independent; Scotland has benefited enormously — economically, politically and in every other way—by joining the Union in 1707 and by the reforms that resulted from the two Jacobite risings. Any concept of devolution involves returning not to the little puddle but to the south sea bubble. We would be going back in history. [Interruption.] I am sure that the people of Scotland will listen to and read this debate. Labour Members should know that mocking the history of our country will not help. What would happen if Scots agreed with the lunacy of this concept of devolution? We would become a little country outside the United Kingdom, unrepresented by the Secretary of State, unrepresented in the Cabinet and unrepresented in the House. Scotland would then surely pay the price of the petty-minded fools on the Labour Benches.
I shall not follow the weird and wonderful ramblings of the hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross (Mr. Fairbairn). As his speech continued, it was obvious that he was talking about nationalism and independence. The motion on the Order Paper in the names of my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Liberal party and my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) and myself concerns devolution in the sense of a Scottish Parliament, not in the sense that the hon. and learned Gentleman appeared to be suggesting. While he may vent his feelings about nationalism, if he so wishes, it must be put on record that he was not dealing in a relevant way with the motion.
The Secretary of State warned about the inherent dangers of the motion that we have proposed, particularly—he used these words—because it constituted unilateral action. In that regard he dealt with what he perceived as a central concern or objection to the rolling proposals that the alliance favours for federalism throughout the United Kingdom. I must tell the Minister that it would not involve unilateralist action, because, given the separate legal system in Scotland, we acknowledge that it can move towards devolved decision-making and political power at an earlier stage. We believe that that is a prerequisite for the further devolution of regions of England and for a Welsh senate or Parliament. The Secretary of State is inaccurate in talking about the unilateralist nature of our proposals.
The Secretary of State addressed himself to the West Lothian question and spoke of it as the greatest constitutional problem that could arise. He completely ignored the point that was made about what pertained when, for 50 years, Members of Parliament from Ireland enjoyed the rights as hon. Members such as the hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart) said would be so wrong for Scottish Members in this context. Of course, that position in Ireland led to a diminution in the number of Members of Parliament from Ireland — we have acknowledged that part and parcel of our proposed reforms would also involve that—and to the loss of an Irish Secretary of State, but we have said that the office of Secretary of State for Scotland would become redundant in every sense given the reforms that we want to make. As to the debates of that half-century, I am sure that the Tory party was not then devoting so much of its attention to the voting rights of Irish Members because, as history shows, more often than not those parties and politicians sided with the Conservative and Unionist party. That is the inconsistency in the argument that is advanced by Conservative Members.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Northern Ireland parallel is not an exact one, because seldom, if ever, were Northern Ireland votes crucial to the Government of the day? There were only 12 Irish Members. Does he agree also that the right to vote was challenged by the Opposition on a number of Bills, particularly those relating to the nationalisation of the steel industry? The crucial difference is whether the votes are likely to be crucial to the Government in power.
I do not doubt the hon. Gentleman's seriousness, but I consider that to be a very dodgy, indeed flawed, basis on which to address a constitutional position in any parliamentary assembly. The hon. Gentleman appears to be arguing that the extent of an elected Member's individual rights is liable to be curtailed, depending on the degree of influence exerted by the overall outcome of his decisions. That is a most dubious principle on which to approach any democratic or constitutional issue.
The Secretary of State's third argument was the most depressing of all—the taxation argument. He spoke of an inevitable tax increase if our proposal went through, pointing out that we were now talking about direct taxation-raising powers, as opposed to the block grant that was debated 10 years ago.
The Secretary of State is not remaining true to the philosophical argument that he is currently advancing in Scotland. He has argued with some intellectual force since the election that the position has changed under a Conservative Government, not least in Scotland. Scotland is historically more dependent on state benefits. Its dependency can also be seen in the level of council house ownership. But the rights that the Secretary of State has seen the Government confer are now becoming responsibilities. We see the philosophical and political contrast between the right to buy a council house and the responsibility, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman would argue, in the exercise of parental control and choice in education.
The Conservative approach, which the Secretary of State has spelt out, is that the Government have moved on to the second phase of reform: greater individual responsibility, rather than merely the taking of greater individual rights. Surely one of the most basic responsibilities—particularly for those of us who argue for direct representation in Scotland — is "No taxation without representation." If we believe, as the Secretary of State believes that the Scots should become more responsible, we must face our accountability in electing the parties and the controlling body within an assembly. That will have immediate fiscal consequences. I do not believe that the Scots are incapable of facing the consequences of manifestos, and of party political programmes and promises, which may involve higher taxation. It must be a decision for the electorate at the ballot box.
Let us concede every one of the Government's arguments. If the Scots were so pathologically opposed to tax increases, and if the Conservatives were the only party standing on a programme that did not involve tax increases, I should have thought that there would be a strong case for them to do very well—indeed better than they anticipate—at the elections. The Secretary of State is not being consistent. Given his own rhetorical track record on the issue, the slippery shift that he tried to perform in his speech is further belied.
Let me make two final points. The first concerns the single-tier local authority. The hon. Member for Eastwood spoke about how sad it would be if Eastwood ceased to be a local authority. I was interested in the point made by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton), who said that it would be quite reasonable for Eastwood to go, as everyone tended to commute into the city of Glasgow anyway. The only equivalent that I can give is probably Skye and Lochalsh district council—although I cannot say that most people within its boundaries always commute to Inverness.
The hon. Gentleman is out of touch if he seriously believes that the existing redrawn local government boundaries in Scotland are popular or make people feel part of the communities that they belonged to within the old boundaries. In reforming into single-tier, all-purpose authorities such as already exist in the Western Isles, Orkney and Shetland, we seek to simplify the system and bring decision-making closer, in a simplified form, to the communities that we wish to see represented. In that way we can avoid the major objection to any form of devolution that is not linked to a reform of the existing local authority system—the imposition of an extra tier of decision-making and bureaucracy—which, ironically, would probably be a further step away from the electorate, whose chances and rights of representation we all supposedly wish to improve.
Finally, let me touch on proportional representation. A new and fascinating argument has been deployed tonight by the Labour party. It is that the alliance, being fixed in principle to proportional representation, will set in train a chain of events that will discriminate against rural areas. I have not heard that one before, and I must compliment whoever dreamt it up as the latest way of saving the Labour party a degree of embarrassment. I think that I detected from the generous speech of the hon. Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Ewing) that Labour Members are so in favour of devolution that they obviously cannot vote for the motion tonight.
It is clear from the results of the last election in Scotland that under-representation in rural areas has been magnified by first-past-the-post politics. Let me appeal to the Labour party's self-interest. If Labour Members want the best of both worlds, which they are perfectly entitled to want—if they want a Scottish assembly, but at the same time want the chance of ousting the United Kingdom Conservative Government on a future occasion — they should do what many of the constituency parties at the Labour conference have begun to realise they must do and embrace proportional representation.
I speak as one who would very much like to see the Government removed from office, but who does not think that the Labour party can achieve that by itself at the next election in the current political circumstances. [Interruption.] I am shocked to observe that the hon. Member for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth (Mr. Hogg) is reading a News International newspaper. What about solidarity with the comrades of Wapping? At least he was not reading page three.
The Labour party should recognise its own interest in embracing proportional representation. It is doubly disappointing that it will not take the first tentative step by recognising it in Scotland. Surely it makes sense geographically. If there is a referendum and we want to sell the idea of a Scottish Parliament to the Scots it will be a great deal easier to sell that idea in the Highlands, the borders, parts of Grampian and the Islands—in other words, around the peripheral areas where there is fear, rightly or wrongly, of central belt domination by the Labour party. That may be through ignorance in those areas of the Labour party, which has proportionally few representatives in them.
If the Labour party wants to get the maximum support for devolution, it should embrace PR. That would operate to its considerable benefit among communities that would be reticent if they felt that they were simply handing over political control to the central belt. Therefore, I urge the Labour party to look in that direction.
Does my hon. Friend accept that it is not healthy for politics if the Labour party, with a few honourable exceptions, is excluded from the rural areas of Scotland, while the Conservative party is excluded from the urban areas of Scotland? Would not proportional representation solve that problem?
I could not agree more with my hon. Friend, and I am grateful to him for his intervention. In the last Parliament there were thousands of voters in the Highlands and Islands who were not represented by the Labour party, and there is not a single Conservative Member who represents one of the city of Glasgow's constituencies. The result is that loyal members of the Conservative and Labour parties find that they are completely unrepresented.
I fear that I should go back down a route that I have already traversed if I were to give way at this stage to the hon. and learned Gentleman.
I commend the proposals to the House. They are practical and equitable. Most important of all, they would be for the general good of the government of Scotland, and at the end of the day that is more important than partisan, party political advantage. Despite the large number of seats that it holds in Scotland, I appeal to the Labour party not to overlook the argument that there should be an all-party organisation that embraces Scottish Members of the Conservative party in order to help us to advance a principle upon which we should be able to agree. It is in that spirit that we have put forward our proposals, and we commend them to the House.
I welcome the debate. I welcome also the fact that the hon. Member for Ross, Cromarty and Skye (Mr. Kennedy) adopted a much less dogmatic approach to the issue—except, perhaps, on proportional representation. Far too many hon. Members have adopted too firm an approach to an issue that must be debated. It is unfortunate that in recent years there has not been informed debate either in the House or in the Scottish Grand Committee, although there is so much to be discussed before a solution can be found. I accept that we cannot reach a conclusive decision today, because of the immense amount of conflicting advice on the issue. Some of that advice is authentic, but some of it is hare-brained.
Those who advocate major constitutional change have to prove that it will be advantageous. I have heard no conclusive evidence today from Opposition Members that leads me to believe that in the long run Scotland would benefit from their proposals. The future of our country is too important for emotion to become a substitute for fact.
I do not intend to treat lightly the Opposition's proposals. Scotland's future is far too important for that. I am sorry that there have been some flippant and light-hearted contributions from the Opposition Benches, because this is a serious matter. However, one could knock the Opposition's incompetence over their tactics in recent months. I expected every Labour Member with a Scottish constituency who felt a burning desire to do something for Scotland to be here today, yet only 17 out of the feeble 50 have been on parade. That does not bode well for devolution.
What happened on 11 November did not bode well for the Labour party. It made so many mistakes that the business of the day was lost, including the Labour party's Bill. It is wrong to con the Scottish people into believing that a Labour party Bill can be legislated for in this Parliament and that eventually it will become an Act of Parliament. [Interruption.] Hon. Members should know that, although a Labour party Bill can be debated on an Opposition day, or introduced under the ten-minute Bill procedure, the possibility of it making progress is absolutely nil. The people of Scotland have been misdirected into believing that to debate a Labour party Bill on an Opposition day means that eventually it will become an Act.
The Scottish National party has spoilt its case by continually overstating its position. It is determined to have independence for Scotland. The arrogance and the intolerance of the Scottish National party's candidates at the election did them no good at all. The Labour party and the other Socialist-minded parties based too much of their assembly and independence campaign on the supposition that the Scottish people want an assembly. I accept that at the last election 1·5 million more people in Scotland voted for the Labour party and for the other Socialist-minded parties than voted Conservative.
The parties that promised in their manifestos that there would be an assembly or independence for Scotland obtained the vast majority of the votes. However, it has not been proved that that was the reason why people voted for the Labour party and the other Socialist-minded parties. Earlier this afternoon my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland said that 96 per cent, of those who were interviewed in a poll said that an assembly was fairly low down on their list of priorities.
Voting trends are a subject for debate, but they are not, completely relevant to this debate. The Conservative party in Scotland must debate why we did not heed the warning of the 1983 election, when the landslide in England did not produce an additional seat in Scotland for the Conservative party. My party must solve that problem in the not too distant future.
We have made splendid economic progress since 1979, and during the last 12 months there has been a steady fall in unemployment. We have a long way to go yet, but we are moving strongly in the right direction. That will encourage the people of Scotland to support the Conservative party. We put Scotland first, which is more than can be said of any other party in this House, and the party that puts Scotland first is the one that will be supported by the people of Scotland. Ministers should concentrate on that fact. They should endeavour to win hearts and minds. They must give higher priority to that endeavour than to the wish to introduce legislation. A lasting success can rarely be won in a world of conflict without leaving dissatisfaction and bad feeling behind.
Where do we go now? Hon. Members are aware that we are debating four options today. The first option is that we remain as we are, with the success of more effective devolution judged by the results. The second option is an assembly with powers to raise tax. Inevitably, taxes would rise under such an assembly. I was astonished at the way in which Opposition Members seemed to believe that if the assembly had an additional taxation power, taxes could conceivably decrease. Everyone knows that Socialist parties which support that view always raise taxes and there is every reason to believe that that would happen again under option two.
As the hon. Gentleman is so concerned about taxation and possible tax increases, will he confirm that the average family in Scotland is now paying £27 a week more in tax—and I include direct and indirect tax—than when the Conservative Government came to office, that its services have become worse, and that it has less control over its own affairs?
I cannot confirm that because I do not have the facts before me. Of course incomes have risen substantially and therefore taxation has gone up substantially. However, it is more important to note that the standard of living is much higher now than it ever was before and inflation is down to a very low level. Those two factors combined make living in Scotland much better than it was in the past.
I am sure that my hon. Friend will be able to confirm that when the Conservative party came to office the industrial wage in Scotland was the lowest in any part of Britain, but it is now the highest.
I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend for that valuable piece of information.
In relation to option two about the assembly, when we have had meetings of the Scottish Grand Committee in Scotland to give the Scottish people a feel of what an assembly might be like the meetings have been singularly poorly attended by hon. Members and by the general public. More importantly, all hon. Members who have attended and spoken in the Scottish Grand Committees in Edinburgh would agree that there has been disappointing press coverage to debate the issues in Scotland. Even the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) would agree that all hon. Members receive poor coverage in the press when taking part in the Scottish Grand Committee in Edinburgh. That does not speak well for the opportunity for debates in Edinburgh.
The third option relates to an assembly tied in with a federal system. It is wrong to consider Scotland on a par with the regions of England and Wales. Scotland is a nation and we must never consider it as a region equated with any other area of the United Kingdom.
The fourth option relates to the alternative—
Many other hon. Members want to speak in the debate tonight. I have already given way frequently and I want to get on with my speech with as few interruptions as possible.
The fourth option involves the stepping stone to independence—
Of course Wales is not a region. Everyone knows that it is a nation. When that nation comes to Murrayfield to play rugby football we will deal with it.
The fourth option is the stepping stone to independence. No one in Scotland wants to go down that route. Whatever option is adopted, with the exception of the first option, it will result in a fundamental constitutional change and a gamble of the highest possible risk which may take years to settle down and show any economic or social advantage. Meanwhile, administrative devolution would stop. There would be a double loss of progress in an endeavour to reach a fundamentally unsound goal.
What should we do? As with the Irish statement, "I wouldn't start from here." However, we must start from here. We have heard from Kilbrandon, Wheatley and Douglas-Home. Indeed, we have had many other reports, all of which hon. Members will have studied. I was none too enthusiastic about local government reform and that is important in terms of the Liberal party motion today.
I have already told Opposition Members that I want to get on with my speech.
The consequences of local government reform will have reduced the chances of an assembly being formed. I refer of course to local authority areas of all Scotland, not of one region or district. There was much good in the old setup of local government, especially in connection with the county councils and small burghs. The town councils, provosts and councillors were an important part of the local community and set a very fine leadership example. They provided a focal point in the community which we have lost — although there are one or two notable exceptions.
Local government today is too impersonal, political and interested in the next election. Indeed, when local government is linked with COSLA it is too monolithic. It makes the man in the street shy away from an additional layer of bureaucratic control through an assembly. There could have been a half-way house, but now that would mean restructuring local government. In the 1970s the Scottish Office was very much hooked on the estuarial theory of regions round the Clyde, Forth and Tay which of course subsequently had to be modified in legislation when Fife became a region. Indeed, there was also a good case then for Ayr to be a region, and for Argyll to be in the Highland region.
Whatever form an assembly may take, we must have a national discussion about the future of local government at the same time. There must be a determined effort through local government to promote local leadership and responsibility at grass roots. Only then will we see a contented local community upon which a successful nation will thrive. Therefore, the debate must be widened, not only to deal with devolution in an assembly, but with the relationship between that assembly and local government.
I abstained in the votes on this legislation in the 1970s. Like my hon. Friends, I believed that there was a good point to examine in terms of the assembly, but we dodged the issue of the financial implications of the assembly at that time. I have been particularly disappointed at the progress and development of local government since the 1970s and I believe that the relationship between COSLA, local authorities and the Scottish Office does not seem to be an ideal platform from which to launch an assembly. That is why I plead with hon. Members to consider a much broader brush in terms of the total government of Scotland than the present assembly superimposed on everything else — [Interruption.] Opposition Members seem to be losing enthusiasm for considering local government. Local government is, after all, part of the motion before the House today. Therefore, it is right that we should stress the importance of the relationship from the ground upwards, as the hon. Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Ewing) said, of our elected representatives from district and regional councils and below them in community councils and other valuable appointed bodies such as health councils. Simply imposing an assembly with no changes lower down would make Scotland over-governed. I urge that we consider that carefully.
We have had Royal Commissions. Heaven forbid that we have another. It is important to come to a conclusion fairly soon so that the Scottish people, Scottish industry and commerce and the Scottish financial world know where they are. Then we can go forward constructively together as one nation determined to do its best.
From what I have heard today, and for some years, about politics in Scotland I doubt whether the Scottish people want to take the step towards an assembly. We cannot govern by emotion alone. We have to be practical and look in great detail at how we should carry out the proposals if we are to go forward.
I think that the best way forward for the continued success of this Government in Scotland is by demonstrating that the present devolved powers are adequate and that they will achieve economic and social success. Achieving practical results over the years, under Labour and Conservative Governments, is the most effective means of showing that the present way is the right way. Only if conclusive evidence is found — we have not heard it today—should we widen the debate. At this moment I am unmoved. I shall be convinced that the present system is the best until proved otherwise.
If ever there was an argument for shift and change in Scotland, we heard it in the last two speeches from the Government Benches. We heard a lying-in-state speech from the hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro). There has been a double-pronged attack, and I shall have news of that for the House later. We also heard the historical exercise delivered by the hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross (Mr. Fairbairn), who, having explained that Scotland was full of Scots, complained about the presence of the Irish. He must have forgotten that the Scots were Irish. We listened with patience. We needed it.
I confess that I am disappointed with the motion. I had hoped for a motion that would unite the House—apart from the troglodytes on the Government Benches—but we did not get that. We have heard speeches in defence of a motion the first priority of which is not to unite the people of Scotland or even to achieve devolution, but to deal with proportional representation. The motion is not about the devolution of power, but about the first step towards devolution being the need to establish proportional representation.
The motion is not about the people of Scotland. It does not even state that devolution is an important step. It is a call to support idiosyncratic attitudes to voting systems.
I remind the hon. Gentleman that the Kilbrandon commission, which the Labour party set up, recommended proportional representation. To say that that is idiosyncratic does the royal commission an injustice.
There is no need to identify the Government who established a royal commission. The royal commission covered a great deal of ground and has been the spur to much of the thinking on the subject. We do not accept every aspect of the commission's report. Of course it is idiosyncratic. It is a particular identifiable concept belonging to a particularly identifiable party. The royal commission is not represented in the House, but fortunately my party is.
I do not wish to explore the whole aspect of proportional representation, but some hon. Members seem to think that PR is a better democratic method of voting than first-past-the-post in particular constituencies and groupings of constituencies. That is nonsense.
First, PR puts too much power in the hands of the parties. Secondly, it frequently fails to achieve a Government, as we have seen in Italy. We cannot even get the Italian President to visit us. Thirdly, PR does not allow continuity of political attitudes after an election. The first thing that a party has to say after a PR election is, "Forget all that we promised you. We are going into coalition with another two parties." The power of democracy ends on election day. PR is a fraud, a nonsense and a mathematical nix.
The background to the debate is that Britain is the most centralised democratic state in western Europe, and perhaps in the world. I can think of no other state which, in its constitutional structure, is more centralised than Britain. There are one or two exceptions. One is Northern Ireland, but that is a phenomenon resulting from historical events and the historical accident of failing to solve the Irish problem before the first world war. Another is the long, historical and noble tradition of Scotland and its ability to look after its own affairs within a highly centralised state. As the state has developed and become more complex, it has intervened more so that that centralisation has become more and more crucial to our democracy.
The truth is that this Government—a Government who came to power on the slogan of returning power to the people, which they thought could be done by extending share ownership — have become the most centralising and the most statist Government. They have claimed to bring back democracy and to strip power from central Government, but they have increased that power many times over.
The Government have removed democratic control from large stretches of our economy — from the nationalised industries — claiming that to be in the interests of the people. An example is British Telecom. By removing the democratic process, the Government have created a coalition of power between Government and Ministers—not Parliament—and the few shareholders. They have gathered wealth and power in that way.
In politics, the means of expression has been whittled down. Political expression in the press is now in three hands — Maxwell, Murdoch and Stevens. The Government stand aside when Murdoch takes over yet another wall of the popular press and say, "After all, it is like the housemaid's baby, it is only little." That is the state of the monopoly.
That is an example of the monopolies that have grown up. The Government said that the 3 per cent, did not matter and ignored the 35 per cent. There has been an accretion of power to the centre and to a few very wealthy people based in the City of London and elsewhere. Social affairs, too, have been centralised. The Government have hammered at the means of providing social works such as education and health, while stripping democratic power from the people. In education we have witnessed the combination of so-called parental power, which in fact means giving power to exclusive groups of schools, and a national curriculum. Above all, we are witnessing centralisation on the constitutional front as the Government attack the power of local government throughout the country. This is the most dangerously centralising Government that we have yet seen.
It is against that background that the demand for elements of devolution is being made. I do not want to go into the motion in too much detail. However, I shall refer to some of the remarks that have been made about the subject. I remember vividly the debates surrounding the referendum, because I raised the question of the referendum. I wanted the referendum to contain two questions, one on devolution, and one on independence. I believe that if we got the 1979 Bill through without tax-raising powers the crisis that would be caused within a few years would break the unity of this country. Without tax-raising powers the assembly would have been able to ask for everything and blame London alone for its failure to get it. No one in the assembly would have been responsible in the sense of having to raise money, and the assembly would not have had to put its money where its mouth was.
No assembly man would be able to resist making demands. No one could stand up and say, "We do not want the steelworks to come to Scotland" or "I do not want that school in my constituency." Like all representatives, the representatives in the assembly would have to ask for those things, but they would not be responsible for raising the money to pay for them As we were failing to achieve the tax-raising powers in the Bill, the only way of preventing a rapid move towards a split was to have a second question in the referendum. I did not achieve my aim, and I eventually voted against the referendum despite my continuing arguments in the House in favour of the Bill. I did so because I believed that there would be a split.
We have now got it right in a number of ways, above all, because we have included tax-raising powers. I cannot understand the fear and economic illiteracy of those Conservative Members who have argued against giving the assembly financial powers—whether to raise or to lower taxation. As a Socialist I know what I shall wish it to do, because I believe in doing good through the expenditure of public money in the interests of the people of this country. It has been argued, "The chambers of commerce object" and "The shareholders object". "They would, wouldn't they?" Such groups have been backing up this Government in some of their worst attacks on the well-being of people over the past seven years.
There is an element of economic illiteracy in the argument, because the taxes that such groups are concerned with are corporate and company taxes. If I were an executive with a firm in England, I would not worry about my income tax if I were shifted from London up to Glasgow. I would not worry that I might have to pay more, because, for one thing, I would not be paying the enormous house prices that I would have to pay in London. Many factors, apart from income tax, can hurt people's pockets. The companies are concerned that the nature of corporate taxation should be the same throughout the country, and we have never challenged that. That is a different argument.
If there is one tax that should be a cause of concern —and this is perhaps the second reason why we hardly need a referendum this time, now that we have seen the nature of this centralising Government—is the poll tax. The need for giving Scotland the power to deal with its internal affairs is nowhere more evident than in the financing of local government in Scotland. Scotland would never have adopted such a crazy and irrational scheme as the poll tax scheme. The poll tax was introduced because the Tory leadership was in a panic about losing the next election in Scotland. The Government therefore brought in this hasty, stupid, unfair, unjust, illogical, immoral and unwanted measure. The poll tax would be rejected by any party meeting in a Scottish assembly. Even the Tory party meeting in Edinburgh would never introduce such a scheme.
I do not know whether the Scottish National party supports the Bill. It does not go far enough for the SNP.
The hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing) has not yet had a chance to speak, and I welcome her to the debate now.
The SNP has not been very forthcoming about how helpful it intends to be in the campaign for devolution or in the campaign against the poll tax. I do not have much belief in parties that call for direct action and illegal action to be led by other people. That does not give me much encouragement. That is what the SNP does. SNP Members say, "Look Norman, why do your people not lead us in a great campaign of non-payment of tax?". My answer to that is, "If you are so keen, why do you not lead the campaign yourself? Why should I ask my people?". Such action may be right. None of us yet knows what shifts the people of Scotland will be pushed into by the strictures of this Government.
Perhaps something will have to be done, but I certainly do not intend to call upon other people to take action that we do not propose to take ourselves. That is a shameful attitude on the part of the SNP. Last time the SNP took direct action, one of its members broke a window in the Royal high school and then sat in the dark with a bandage round one hand and made a speech to the darkness. We are not really in the business of breaking mere wee windaes. That is not a form of direct action to which we can subscribe.
I said earlier that we had been subjected to a double-pronged attack. Conservative Members have attacked us in the House and, God help us all, someone else has been let loose today in Scotland. We thought that things in Scotland were bad because we had unemployment and were paying tax, but now the Chancellor of the Exchequer has been let loose upon us. I have here a report which says:
Chancellor Nigel Lawson today painted an upbeat picture of a soon-to-be-booming Britain when he preached the Government's gospel of enterprise zeal to Labour dominated Scotland. The British economy was 'sounder and stronger' … he told businessmen at a private lunch in Glasgow … 'The only real threat to Scotland is the entrenchment of the anti-enterprise culture. All those who
wish greater prosperity for Scotland should strive to expunge the ghost of dependence and embrace the spirit of enterprise … The puzzling thing is that Scotland's most assiduous denigrators are Scots themselves! Mr. Lawson's visit coincided with the launch in Glasgow today of a 'hearts and minds' campaign by his party to woo voters in urban Clydeside … Mr. Lawson told his audience that today's CBI survey was the first to show the state of British industry after the world stock market collapse—and the picture it painted was 'profoundly encouraging'.
At the bottom of the page it says "More" so I shall look for more. The report goes on:
The economy of Scotland itself had made 'great advances', but Mr. Lawson complained: 'You would not get that impression from those who wish to run Scotland down.' … unemployment was falling, and Scottish living standards were higher".
The Chancellor said that manufacturing productivity had risen and that manufacturing output was going "from strength to strength". However, he added:
The enterprise spirit North of the Border was frequently swamped by an overriding sense of dependence on the state.
He went on to say:
'powerful forces of change' were at work including ownership … of shares.
After the events of the past three weeks the Chancellor has travelled 400 miles to try to encourage us hard-headed small-pocketed Scots to buy shares. The report then says, "More" again, and the Chancellor concluded:
The policies that have brought growing prosperity to other parts of the United Kingdom will work in Scotland too.
This double-pronged attack — the lying-in state speech of the hon. Member for Dumfries and the profusion of utterances by a Chancellor who goes north of the border, mad with success—is why the Scottish people say, "Enough is enough." We cannot get rid of the Government too quickly. In the meantime, let us mobilise the people of Scotland. I had hoped that the Liberals and the SNP would show that they wanted to mobilise in a united fight to get rid of the poll tax and the nonsensical centralised concept of privatising housing. There must be some sane Members of the Tory party—though it is difficult to believe it—who would join us in a campaign to return the government of Scotland to the people of Scotland. This cannot come too quickly.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I genuinely seek your guidance. Is it in order for a Conservative Back Bencher, who was not present when the leader of the Liberal party moved the motion or when the Secretary of State for Scotland moved a Government amendment and who came into the Chamber halfway through the speech of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) to be called in advance of the many Opposition Members who have sat through the entire debate?
The Chair has to take many factors into account in determining which hon. Member should be called. Those matters are at the Chair's discretion, and must not be challenged in this manner.
If the hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing) had been more patient, she would have realised that I came into the Chamber late for a good reason. I was in my constituency attending an engagement that had been arranged a considerable time ago. It was the opening of a new factory in my constituency. The hon. Lady often says that one of our prime duties is to bring jobs to Scotland. That is what I was doing and why I was not able to be present at the beginning of the debate. I apologise to the leader of the Liberal party—the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Steel). I should have liked to be present but, unfortunately, could not be here. I am delighted to be able to inform the hon. Member for Paisley, South (Mr. Buchan) that the reason I was able to open that factory today — the second such factory to be opened in my constituency in the small town of Forfar—
I opened the factory at 11.30 am. If the hon. Gentleman is aware of the difficulties involved in getting from my constituency to here, he will realise that I made very good time.
My right hon. Friend the Chancellor today observed the conditions in Tayside, North, a constituency that does not enjoy the benefits of regional aid and does not encourage employers with Government perks. Firms come to my constituency because economic conditions are good and because they believe that there will be customers for their products. Recently, the textile industry has suffered substantially, and I am sure that the Opposition agree that it is important that a Member should encourage firms to come to his constituency and it is better still if he is invited to open a factory. This shows that we must consider the many aspects that affect the government of Scotland. We should not debate this issue frivolously. It is much too serious to be treated flippantly.
It is sad that the only form of devolution that the Leader of the Opposition and his party are prepared to support is devolution that embraces proportional representation, as its first priority—[HON. MEMBERS: "It is the leader of the Liberal party."] I am sorry. The right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale is the leader of one of the Opposition parties, but not the main one. Sometimes he behaves as though he were the leader of the principal Opposition party. Proportional representation leads to coalitions and back-door deals, and I agree with the hon. Member for Paisley, South on this point. This is one of the many reasons why we should not embrace proportional representation for election to the House or to any assembly set up by it. I remind the Opposition and all those who propose devolved government that they must take on board the fact that their proposals, whatever their form, must first enjoy the support of the House of Commons. Without it, they will not become law.
I do not expect that the proposals in the alliance motion will gain the support of the House of Commons, so I presume that this is a form of political kite-flying—an attempt to pre-empt Labour party proposals. It is an attempt to steal from the Labour party some of the political mileage and political copy in national newspapers or on radio and television. I cannot tell whether the alliance will be successful in its attempt. I am certain that one would not expect these proposals to gain the support of the House of Commons as it exists at present, the House of Commons as it was between 1974 and 1979, or, indeed, any other House of Commons.
Once the proposals are properly evaluated, people begin to ask pertinent questions. Devolution in Scotland means different things to different people. People will say, "Yes, I am in favour, but —". It is the "but" that is important. It is like marriage. One says "I am in favour of marriage in general terms, but not in favour of my children marrying just anyone." [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I make no bones about it. It might mean that I am different because I like to think that my offspring would marry in a way that would make them and their mother happy. There is nothing odd about the way I view it. That is the normal way in which parents behave.
The hon. Lady has made the very point that I was trying to get across. She says, "I am in favour of devolution, but I shall qualify it. I am not in favour if the devolution involves a Tory." The hon. Lady has made my point splendidly for me. She clearly showed the qualifications that are hedged around all the proposals. Unfortunately for the hon. Lady and other Opposition Members, it is only when we go into the detail of their proposals that we find that many individuals will not put up with their qualifications, disappointments and, some would say, prejudices. I am convinced that the proposal in the motion would have little hope of getting through the House of Commons, whatever its political complexion, because it does not take on board the fact that about 80 per cent, of the electorate of the United Kingdom live in England. That means that about 80 per cent, of all taxpayers live in England. Proposals such as this, which come before the House and are flawed, will have those flaws exposed during debate in the House. That 80 per cent, of the electorate will tell the hon. Members representing them, from whatever party, that they do not expect them to vote for such a proposal.
Every hon. Member knows that there is one notable absentee from the Opposition Benches this evening. The voice that used to be the voice of West Lothian is missing. Why is that voice missing this evening?—[Interruption.]
There are many reasons why the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) is missing, but certainly one is not that he has changed his mind. Anyone who talks to the hon. Gentleman knows that he is an honest man, who believes genuinely in what he does. I do not agree with much of what he does. However, this House is about debate and open discussion.
While we are on the subject of those who stick to their principles, perhaps the hon. Gentleman could tell us why his right hon. Friend the Member for Kincardine and Deeside (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) is not here.
To be totally honest, I have no idea. However, if my right hon. Friend feels strongly about these matters—[Interruption.] I hope that having asked me that question the hon. Member will do me the courtesy of listening to what I have to say. If my right hon. Friend feels strongly about these matters—I understand that he may well do so—it is up to him to come here and make his case. That is what this Chamber is for. I do not know why my right hon. Friend is not here. However, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will agree that on the occasions when I have not been in agreement with the Government's position on various matters, I have never shirked coming here to put forward my ideas, because that is what democracy is about. Our job is to try to convince our Front Bench if we want things done differently. We can do so in many different ways and we should certainly use this Chamber effectively for that.
Opposition Members must remember that I am not the only person who has doubts about proposals for an assembly. I have never embraced such proposals because I honestly believe that trying to present a workable package to the House is probably the most difficult task facing anyone in favour of an assembly. When one tries to work out the details of how one will set up the assembly, structure it, make it operate and lay down its rules, one realises that one must take on board the views of all hon. Members in the House.
I refer the House to Hansard of 13 January 1976, which states:
There is a cosy delusion that by appearing to bring decision-making nearer home … we shall advance democracy and efficiency of Government. That is not true.
Many struggles confront the people of this country and not a single one … will be resolved by this kind of constitutional change."—[Official Report, 13 January 1976; Vol. 903, c. 292–6.]
Those comments were not made by a Conservative Member, but by the leader of the Official Opposition. I would not disagree with anything in those words because the right hon. Gentleman put his finger right on the button.
The motion is all about political opportunism by the Liberal party in an attempt to pre-empt the Labour party's devolution proposals. We all know that the Labour party's political opportunism is their bringing forward of the Scotland Bill. I have been reading that Bill and it struck me as another piece of political opportunism. I draw the attention of the House to clause 11(1), which states:
If Parliament subsequently determines, the Assembly shall have power to vary the rates of income tax on individuals resident in Scotland and these rates may be different from those set in the rest of the United Kingdom.
All the evidence suggests that a Labour-controlled assembly in Scotland would behave as have Labour- controlled regional and district councils. It would start to spend the taxpayers' money and would borrow taxpayers' money on their behalf. It would have spending plans that would violently distort the position of Scotland as compared with the rest of the United Kingdom, so much so that businesses would be driven away from Scotland. If we truly believe and genuinely care—
Mr. Deputy Speaker, I think that I am entitled to take from a clause of a Bill that is before the House my reading of the way in which it is likely to be interpreted when it becomes legislation. The object is then to table amendments to try to change my interpretation of it. Opposition Members know full well that that is the way in which this place operates. They know also that part of presenting any Bill is that one always attempts to dress it up in the best possible way. If you read the rest of that clause, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I am sure that you will not find that my assessment of it was wrong.
I turn now to the situation affecting the hon. Member for Moray who I imagine will be able to catch your eye fairly soon, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and who is not looking very happy. I must advise the hon. Lady and her hon. Friends that at least the position of the Scottish National party is clear. It is credible for that party to say, "If we can get the support of enough of the Scottish people we can go for independence. After all, it is all right for other parts of the world, so why not for Scotland?" That is a credible political position. Although I am totally opposed to it, that does not make me doubt the integrity of those putting forward that proposal. However, I do doubt the integrity of those who put forward fundamental reforms that would affect the long-term stability of our country without carefully thinking through the possible results.
Reference was made earlier to my friend, Mr. Michael Ancram, who used to be an hon. Member of this House. As I understand it, the comment was made that he had suggested that there was a danger and a risk of the position in Scotland developing into a Northern Ireland situation. One should not jest about that because the matter is too serious for jesting. Hon. Members should not think that we can simply paper over the cracks on matters that affect people. If Opposition Members consistently bring forward proposals that they cannot deliver and if they build up expectations that they know cannot be realised, there is always a danger. Frivolous comments have been made about the previous direct action taken by the Scottish National party. Indeed, there was levity and it was funny. However, there is nothing funny about suggesting that somehow the way to bring about change is outside this building. I, too, draw attention to that danger. I do not wish to shelter behind what Mr. Ancram said. Those who constantly bring forward proposals that they cannot deliver are responsible for the unrest generated as a result. I make no bones about that. Responsibility for the consequences must lie with those who cannot deliver what they have proposed.
—will not get through the House. I have not heard of any poll tax. There is a community charge, which went through this place and became law. If the Opposition wish to deliver their proposals, they must first persuade a majority in the House, not necessarily from their own parties, to vote for them. Otherwise, they are putting forward proposals which could, and may, cause problems elsewhere.
The hon. Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Ewing) said that he hoped that the issue of Scottish constitutional change would not stand still but would remain the subject of dynamic debate. To judge from several Conservative speeches today, the Conservative party is not so much standing still as going backwards and digging itself into ever deeper trenches of unionism. The Conservatives have not even welcomed the opportunity to debate these matters. They have merely brought out all the hoary old chestnuts from the 1970s debates.
The hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross (Mr. Fairbairn) made one of the most illogical speeches I have ever heard. Following the Conservative election defeat, when the Conservatives lost the equivalent of an entire football team north of the border, some brave souls in that party were daring enough to suggest that the Conservative party in Scotland should review its attitude to the constitutional issue. The hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross, however, described his colleagues on that occasion as "twits", "traitors" and "bloody Scots." Some of us might regard those as fitting epithets for the hon. and learned Gentleman himself in the next edition of "Who's Who." That kind of negative response does not serve the interests of the people of Scotland or of sensible, level-headed debate about the demand for progress towards constitutional change.
I welcome the motion as an opportunity to debate this issue. I hope that it will not be the last such opportunity and that others in the House will ensure that the issue is raised time and again. My colleagues and I will support the Liberal motion as we share the Liberal party's commitment to proportional representation, and it has long been our policy to support the concept of single-tier local authorities in Scotland.
We should not have to wait for the establishment of a Scottish assembly to examine the issue of local government. The Scottish National party is committed to the idea of a Scottish constitutional convention to allow all interested bodies, including politicians of all parties, to come to grips with the need to find an across-the-board solution acceptable to the people of Scotland.
Although there may be differences between my party and the Liberal party, we regard the principle enshrined in the motion as a sign that the House is at least aware of the demands in Scotland for constitutional change. We shall therefore support that basic principle. It is depressing that Labour Members cannot override their own views about proportional representation and support the motion.
The hon. Lady has shown commendable charity towards the Liberal party. Will she show equal charity towards the Labour party and vote for our Bill when it comes before the House?
I am a very charitable lady. The hon. Gentleman cannot have heard the radio programme yesterday in which I participated with the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) and made it clear that the consensus in the Scottish National party was moving towards supporting that Bill when it comes before the House, because, like today's motion, it provides an opportunity to discuss the issue and to show our commitment to restoring some form of democracy to the people of Scotland.
In moving the Government amendment, the Secretary of State reeled off a list of issues in the general election campaign and suggested that the main issues were unemployment, education, and so on. He used that argument to support his claim that there was no demand for devolution in Scotland. I suggest that any member of the Scottish National party, Plaid Cymru, the Liberal party or the Labour party, if asked what were the major issues in the election, would have said that they were unemployment, education, housing, health, and so on. It is extremely naughty of the Secretary of State to try to justify his argument in that roundabout way, and it is unworthy of the intelligence that we know him to possess. He certainly did not go on to suggest how we might deal with all those problems. Many of us believe that issues of that kind cannot be tackled without constitutional change, which we regard as a catalyst which will unleash new approaches, new dynamism and new philosophies instead of the stale, stagnating, centralising philosophies that we now have in Great Britain.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her confirmation that the issues in the general election were unemployment and the other matters to which she referred. Her political philosophy is that an independent Scotland could solve the problems of unemployment more effectively than the present constitutional arrangements, but presumably she does not believe that an assembly with the powers proposed by the Labour party, dealing primarily with education, housing, and so on, would have the slightest effect on unemployment in a manner beneficial to the people of Scotland.
An assembly with the proper resources could take steps in that direction. It is a matter of political priorities, and the men and women in the Scottish assembly would decide how best to spend the money to achieve the most effective help rather than being tacked on to the coat tails of United Kingdom legislation and not allowed to take such decisions for ourselves.
I would point out to some of the Conservative Members who have left the Chamber and to some of the hon. Members from England, including the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) who showed an interest in the issue of decentralisation, that we want to establish a Scottish assembly and a Scottish Parliament because we believe that that catalyst to change will benefit the English regions and Wales. Only through the Scottish people setting an example and having the confidence to take the lead will this institution at Westminster begin to respond to the genuine demands of people within England and Wales. We must start where there is demand, and there is demand in Scotland.
Another point that has been raised in the debate is the interminable West Lothian question. We keep trying to change its name because we have changed constituencies, but the issue is the same. My hon. Friends and I have never had any difficulty in dealing with this issue, because, quite simply, while we are in this place, we have taken a self-denying ordinance not to vote on any legislation that deals particularly with England. Hon. Members can search Hansard and they will find that to be the case.
The hon. Lady can only make that point because she is a member of a minority party. If she were in government with a minority in England she could not take a self-denying ordinance and govern. That would be impossible.
It is not for me to dictate policy to the Labour party and the Conservative party, but I have clearly shown how we deal with that problem. If there were an independent Scottish Parliament, there would be no Scottish Members in the House of Commons.
The amendment in the name of my party clearly states what the SNP believes. Some 20 years ago, my mother-in-law, Winnie Ewing, took her seat in the House as the victor of the Hamilton by-election. We fought that by-election with the slogan, "Stop the world, Scotland wants to get on." That philosophy still underpins the policies and the actions of the SNP. Right hon. and hon. Members like to disparage us by talking about separatism and isolationism, yet the people of Scotland have been denied the right to have their voice heard in the world international community. That is where we seek to take our nation. During the past 20 years we have kept a continuous presence on these Benches. In the 1970s we dominated this House when we brought the constitutional issue right to the Floor of the House and came close to achieving our objectives.
I remind hon. Members of the 1979 referendum in which the people of Scotland said yes, but we had the infamous 40 per cent. rule. That rule had never been used before in regard to the formation of Governments in this place. When we voted to enter the Common Market, which was surely a major constitutional change, there was no 40 per cent, requirement. That led us to talk about the fact that Britannia no longer rules the waves, but waives the rules. If the House had accepted the democratic aspirations of the people of Scotland, we would not be in our present position.
There is still a strong demand in Scotland for a change in the constitution. The MORI opinion poll of this year showed that 33 per cent—a third of Scots—wanted a completely independent Scottish assembly, and 52 per cent, wanted a Scottish assembly which would be part of Britain but would have substantial powers. Most significantly, support for the status quo had dropped from 38 per cent, in March 1979, the time of the referendum, to 15 per cent. Only 15 per cent, of Scots wish to maintain the status quo. That is an even smaller number than those who voted Conservative at the last election and shows that many Conservatives wish to see a change in the status quo. I suggest that the Conservative party ignores such a demand at its own peril.
Britain is now part of the European Community, and it is interesting to consider the concept of Scotland within it. The EEC, in Brussels and Strasbourg, is now taking many decisions that affect agriculture, fishing, steel, shipbuilding and a variety of vital policy matters. Scotland must have independent government so that she can be represented within the Commission and the Council of Ministers. It is significant that that view is shared by a substantial number of Scots. A Scottish attitude survey, carried out by Survey Research Associates last autumn, revealed that no less than 77 per cent, of Scottish voters agreed with the proposition that Scotland should be independently represented within the EEC, with only 14 per cent, disagreeing. Not surprisingly, the overwhelming majority—90 per cent—of SNP voters agreed with the proposition. However, a decisive number of Labour voters—79 per cent.—also agreed, as did 76 per cent, of alliance voters. Even 61 per cent, of Conservative voters agreed.
We are asking the House not just to consider whether to allow Scotland to have an assembly—a talking shop or something that would not be as effective as we would wish—but to look beyond that to the international community and the role that Scotland, as one of the most ancient nations in Europe, could play in it. I do not believe that the Scottish voice is represented effectively on many of the international issues of the day. We need think only of the appalling position in South Africa. Not many Scots agree with the Prime Minister's attitude towards apartheid. Many of them would have wished to have spoken out and to have supported boycotts had they been able to participate in the international debate. Why should the Scottish voice be denied on a whole variety of international issues such as peace, eradication of famine, and so on? There are 142 nations in the United Nations, but Scotland is not among them. We are taking a logical stance. We wish to go into the world community and take upon ourselves the responsibilities of being a nation.
I wish to end my speech with a quotation from a previous Member of Parliament:
With the passage of a Home Rule bill in a few months time we could go to Euston, St. Pancras or King's Cross and book a single ticket for Glasgow! For with a nation of five million people, of a manageable size, which has attained a general standard of intelligence and a nation which, above all, has the democratic spirit … With a Scottish Parliament, in which our best Scottish brains and courage are expended, we should do in five years, in Scotland, what could not be produced by 25 or 30 years of heart-breaking work in the British House of Commons.
It is an especially interesting quotation because it came from Jimmy Maxton — and an hon. Member with a similar name opened the debate for the Labour party today. Mr. Jimmy Maxton said that after Punch had published a cartoon wishing that the rebellious Scots would leave Westminster in peace.
Those hon. Members who come to the House to vote tonight should understand that we are not so much wishing to be rebellious as to be responsible individuals within our own country. I ask the House to support the motion.
It was once said that if ever the meek were to inherit the earth there would be precious little in it for the Scots. During the debate, and especially during the speech of the hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing), some of that not unendearing characteristic has been very evident.[Interruption.]I hear the Opposition muttering that I represent Ipswich — I suspect that that is because Ipswich is in England, not Scotland. They are probably saying, "This is the first Member for an English constituency to intervene"—[Interruption.] There have, of course, been one or two interventions by English Members but this is a speech.
It is absurd to think that we can debate the government of Scotland without considering the English dimension. It is, therefore, important that a Member representing an English constituency puts an English point of view.
I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman is taking part in the debate. He sets a good example that should be followed by some of his colleagues, who will no doubt turn up at 10 o'clock to vote against the motion without having listened to the debate. However, I do not think that the hon. Gentleman has listened carefully, because it has been quite clear that Scottish Members have recognised the English dimension. Indeed, I stressed that point in my speech. We have no wish to do down the English community; we wish only to take our nation into freedom.
That is all very well, but may I give another reason for my intervening —[HON. MEMBERS: "It is a speech."] Indeed. Although I was born in London and represent an English constituency, my father was born and bred in Scotland. I come from a Free Church of Scotland family. My father's mother was a MacKay and her mother was a Fraser—and one cannot get much more Scottish than that. Although born in London, several of my early years were spent in Edinburgh, and my first memories are of Edinburgh. I still have family in that city and I visit it frequently. Indeed, I have probably climbed more Scottish hills than every Opposition Member put together—
Yes, but I wanted to establish my bona fides.
The hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) accused the English of foisting Conservative housing, education and industrial policies on Scotland. He must recognise that on many occasions this century Scotland could be said to have foisted Labour or, indeed, Liberal policies upon England. My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State well made the point that there have been only two occasions this century when Labour had a clear majority in England—in 1945 and, but only just, in 1966.
To be fair to the Liberals—after all, it is their motion and I do not want to overlook their role in the debate—there was also a Liberal majority in England in 1906. However, other than on those occasions, when there have been non-Conservative Governments it has been—to use the words of the hon. Member for Cathcart—the Scots and the Welsh who have foisted policies on the English. That is fair enough, because it is part of our system. The Celtic fringe has brought many benefits to England and, with my ancestry, I would not deny that. However, to change that system and impose the West Lothian conundrum would mean Scottish Members retaining their right to debate and vote on the whole range of English domestic issues, while Scottish domestic issues would be decided in Edinburgh with no English intervention.
The logic of the hon. Gentleman's argument is that the Secretary of State and all Conservative Members propose to abolish the Scottish Office and bring all the functions carried out by the Scottish Office into the various Departments at a United Kingdom level. There are United Kingdom Departments and there is a Scottish Office, but there is no English Department of State. If the hon. Gentleman can name one Department of State that is entirely English, I shall give him a fiver.
I shall not take the hon. Gentleman up on that, though I could do with his fiver. Perhaps he will listen to me rather than gesticulate triumphantly to those sitting behind him. The fact that Scotland and Wales both have a Secretary of State is a tribute to and note of their proud position as nations within the United Kingdom. Labour Members are wrong if they think that English people and English industrialists will put up with a situation in which Scotland imposes on England a Labour Government because of its tendency, at least in recent years, to vote Labour, yet at the same time English Members are barred from debating and voting on Scottish domestic issues. The English people and English industrialists simply will not put up with that.
The Labour party is not a naturally devolutionist party. It stumbled upon devolution in the first place because of sheer naked fear. Labour Members were terrified by the rise of the Scottish National party. They clutched at devolution in an attempt to head that off and win back votes which they feared were going to the SNP. When they had clutched at devolution and got their hands on it, they suddenly discovered that, quite apart from it being expedient, it presented a chance for opportunism because they were doing rather better in Scotland than in England. It occurred to them that by adopting this kind of devolution they could seize power in Scotland. I am sure that that is what they hoped. They hoped that the Red Clyde would impose its will on the rest of Scotland and they would have their own Socialist state within Scotland. The Labour conversion to devolution is, therefore, fundamentally flawed. It is built on self-interest, expediency and opportunism.
It is here that my Scottish blood and ancestry come in, and I hope that this will produce a favourable response from Labour Members. The English show a degree of insensitivity towards Scotland and Scottish problems and a tendency to ignore the Scottish dimension. I sympathise with that feeling among Scots. I share it myself. I would like to see Parliament sitting for a fortnight or so in Edinburgh, and perhaps even in Cardiff. That would be a good idea. The occasional meetings of the Scottish Grand Committee in Edinburgh have not been a success, but, after all, 350 years ago, our predecessors at Westminster sat in Oxford from time to time. There is much to be said for a full-scale meeting of the Westminster Parliament in Edinburgh or Cardiff.
I fear that if there is a Scottish assembly it will become narrow-minded and inward-looking. It will be obsessed with parochial issues. What is more, it will tend to be dominated by the Left. That will mean disaster for Scotland. The brain drain from Scotland and the loss of population from Scotland to Canada, New Zealand and England in past years would be intensified if there were to be a Socialist Government in Edinburgh. I agree with the hon. Member for Paisley, South (Mr. Buchan) that, inevitably, a Scottish assembly would need to have tax-raising powers. Otherwise, it would be able to spend without the responsibility of raising the revenue to do so.
To allow devolution would diminish not just the United Kingdom; it would diminish England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Ultimately, it would diminish Scotland too.
Like many of my colleagues and many. Conservative Members, I welcome the opportunity to debate Scotland. As a devolutionist, I welcome any debate in the House on the question of devolution. However, I cannot agree with the sentiments of the motion, especially proportional representation and the idea of single-tier local authorities. That is not because they are not my ideas, but because I am speaking as a member of the Labour party. We have not taken a decision to embrace proportional representation and we have not taken steps to embrace the need for single-tier local authorities. However, I happen to favour the system of single-tier local authorities, particularly for cities.
I welcome this opportunity for a debate and there will be a further opportunity to discuss devolution when the Labour party presents its Bill for Second Reading. It has to be said that if it were not for the Opposition parties, there would be no discussion on devolution. Although some Conservative Members are saying that they welcome the debate there are no moves by the Government to provide a debate in the House.
I notice the absence of Conservative Members at this time. As someone who has taken part in debates, certainly in Committee—I am sure that the Secretary of State will be informed of what I am about to say or he can read Hansard—I am sad at the demise of something I used to enjoy very much. It used to be a treat to hear the oral swordplay that went on between the Secretary of State and my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Garscadden, (Mr. Dewar). I confess that they are both university-trained advocates and one would expect a high level of debate from them. When the Secretary of State appeared at the Dispatch Box as a Minister in his earlier days he had some zest and passion for what he was saying. That is obviously absent when he speaks now. The reason is that, as the Secretary of State for Scotland, he is not looking after the interests of Scottish people as he should be but is merely paying lip service to the Scots because he is taking the undemocratic and centralist view of the Cabinet and employing Thatcherism in Scotland in a way that it has never been applied before.
I have to say to the Secretary of State and Conservative Members, whether they are in the Chamber or not, that they cannot go on treating the people of Scotland with such crass neglect and arrogance. It is absolute nonsense to say that in Scotland there is no need for devolution and that there is no desire for it. In recent months and years the polls have shown a high demand among Scots for some form of devolution, but that has been ignored by Conservative Members. I know how much there is a need and a desire for devolution because I have taken the trouble to travel throughout Scotland to ask people what their views are.
It is worth mentioning that the Labour party in Scotland produced a Green Paper on devolution. We are the only party to have done that. That document was distributed widely across Scotland and we asked for people's views. I was pleasantly surprised by the response to that document. We received 50 positive responses to our request for information on devolution and how people saw our ideas. Not content to sit within the walls of Parliament pontificating about the wishes of the people of Scotland, we sent forth groups to travel the length and breadth of Scotland, from the Orkneys and the Shetlands down to the Borders and from the east coast to the west coast. We travelled in groups to discuss devolution with anyone who cared to talk to us. We discussed what our Green Paper meant to those people and we extracted from them ideas on how they saw devolution being acted upon in Scotland. Any band of people prepared to cross the Pentland Firth in a boat to talk to people in the Shetlands about devolution have shown that they are interested in the views of the people.
In the main we talked to local authorities, but we also talked to various interested groups. In the local authorities we met Conservatives, Liberals, members of the Scottish National party and, of course, Labour members. There were different strands of approach in all the discussions, but one of the key questions we were asked was what was going to happen to the second tier of local authorities. We developed a theme and said that that would be left for the elected assembly to determine. We said that it was not for us as a consultative body to express our ideas. When the assembly is about to be elected, it is right and proper that the various parties standing for election should declare their views. It will be up to the people to read the manifestos of those standing and they can then cast their vote for the party that they consider to be the most suitable and closest to their ideals.
We collected that material over a period of years and we worked upon it in many committees. The gallant sailors were led by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) and when he was unable to travel because of other duties we were led by my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan) or my hon. Friend the Member for Strathkelvin and Bearsden (Mr. Galbraith). We continued to process the material and eventually drew it together to bring about our Bill for devolution. Of course, we shall have an opportunity to debate the contents of that Bill in the near future.
Having gone to all that bother, trouble and work, it is a scandalous insult for Conservative Members to declare that they have better knowledge about what the people of Scotland want. Irrespective of what our manifestos were when we went to the people of Scotland, it is an insult to their intelligence to suggest that they did not know what was contained in our manifestos. By the sheer weight of their numbers, the people of Scotland voted for the Labour party's policies, one of the strongest planks of which was devolution. A devolved assembly would take care of some of the difficulties that the people of Scotland now face or are about to face. In the first instance, there would be no poll tax. No poll tax would ever go through an elected assembly in Scotland. Now that the issue is beginning to be talked about, we have ascertained that Scottish people would dismiss a poll tax.
As for an English education system being foisted upon the Scots, that would not have been allowed or tolerated under a directly elected Scottish assembly, whatever its political make-up. I am sure that the Scottish education system, which is admired by the countries of Europe, would not have been allowed to be systematically destroyed, as it will be, judging by the various attitudes that have been displayed by Conservative Members and the intended legislation.
We took our ideas about devolution to the people of Scotland, and they have given the country their answer. I do not recall any Scottish vote to foist the Scottish education system on England. I do not recall any legislation such as that relating to the poll tax being foisted upon the people of England by a majority vote in Scotland. It is absolute nonsense to say that that is the case. If we could obtain a directly elected Scottish assembly I would gladly give up the right to vote on English constituency matters. Proportional representation is not relevant to the needs of the people of Scotland.
I should accept it if the Government were to say, "We shall give you your Bill, provided proportional representation is to be the method by which an assembly is elected." There is no difficulty in our saying that that is the case.
First and foremost, we in Scotland need a directly elected assembly to protect us from the very person whose job it is to protect us, the Secretary of State for Scotland. The Secretary of State—certainly his predecessor—has seized immense powers. Local democratic decision-making has almost become a farce. The reduction of the rate support grant in all its forms has meant not more accountability but a great deal less accountability for local authorities. That is one of the reasons the people of Scotland will not have the will of central Government thrust upon them.
As democrats, we wish to protect the rights of democratically elected local authorities. They should not be overruled by a non-democratic central Government. The people of Scotland have made their choice. I do not believe that 80 per cent, of Scottish people are devolutionists. There is strong feeling among Scots for devolution, but most of it is anti-Thatcherism.
Recently, the Chancellor of the Exchequer said that what we in Scotland need is not less Thatcherism but more Thatcherism. Scottish people need less gruel. More gruel will stick in the throats of the people of Scotland. They will not tolerate such arrogance from a London Government. They will continue to make their protests known in whatever democratic manner they can against the pressure that is being almost exuded in London—it is like the power of Svengali—by those who purport to represent the Scots. In particular, I refer to the Conservatives in Scotland. They will be completely eliminated at the next general election. I hope that that will spread south of the border so that we may eliminate a Government who are hell-bent on blindly pursuing their policies, irrespective of the true wishes of the people of Scotland.
The lack of Conservative Members on the Government Benches is an eloquent statement about their interest in Scottish affairs. Indeed, no Back-Bench Scottish Members are here to listen. It is incumbent upon them to listen to hon. Members' points about the future of government in Scotland. I appreciate the brief appearance that was made by the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Irvine). He reflected on a new dimension of devolution. Depopulation and the brain drain are to be the next manifestations of the Government's anti-devolutionary strategy in Scotland. Obviously, he does not have much stomach for anything that may be relevant to the debate.
I am pleased to contribute to the debate. I shall not support the motion. It confuses many important issues. Like my hon. Friends who have spoken, I support some of what is in the motion. Clearly, the reference to single-tier local government and proportional representation are not presently on the Labour party's agenda in Scotland. If a motion seeks to devolve government from Westminster, it is not sensible to talk about single tiers of local government without a Scottish assembly being charged with that responsibility.
A much more sensible approach has been outlined in the Scottish legislation that was before the House last week. I hope that it will soon be given a Second Reading. It reflects the Labour party's wisdom in pursuing a sensible, constructive way forward. It will reflect the legitimate aspirations of the people of Scotland, who have been treated with utter contempt by Conservative Members. It will allow us to democratise the existing administrative devolution in Scotland that has been developed over many years. It will provide a focus for the regeneration of the Scottish soul.
I make no extravagant demands that unemployment will be solved overnight or that there will be massive investment in new industry. It will allow us to reflect on some of the areas in which the Government are creating most mayhem; that is to say, education, social services and the National Health Service. They are the most important aspects of the Scottish legislation. I sound a careful warning to Liberal party Members and their collegues in the Social Democratic party. They presently run a terrible risk.
The motion is confusing because it raises minor obstacles rather than the achieving of some form of self-government or devolution. If the Liberal party continues to push for PR and for a single tier of local government before there is an assembly in Scotland to deal with those matters, that will not be in its best interests, the interests of the SDP or the interests of the Scottish people. My constructive advice to the Liberal party is that we now have on the Scottish political map two parties with extreme policies. On the one hand, we have the Scottish Nationalist party, which is committed to separation.
The Scottish National party—I apologise to the hon. Member—is involved in narrow nationalism. It seeks to talk about separation and to isolate Scotland from the rest of the United Kingdom. That extreme position is not supported by the Scottish people, as was shown in the recent general election results. What is increasingly of concern to us is that that policy is anti-English. We may joust with Conservative Members about their participation in Scottish affairs, but it is dangerous for any political party to seek to lay at the door of the English people and English Conservative Members the damage that has been inflicted upon Scotland by the Conservative Government. The two are not synonymous, and it is important that all political parties look at that carefully.
The hon. Gentleman clearly does not know what the policies of the SNP are. Far from being anti-English, many of our members are English. It is just that if they live and work in Scotland, they put Scotland first. Nor are we a separatist party. The hon. Gentleman advocates separatism — separating Scotland from its wealth and its position in Europe and in the world. We want to get Scotland back into the world, not take it out of the world, as the hon. Gentleman does.
It is arrant nonsense to suggest that the Labour party supports separatism. We wish to see a devolved framework of government. The hon. Gentleman talked about separating Scotland from its wealth, but it is the Labour party that has spoken about investment, unemployment and jobs in Scotland. It seems that the party that likes to say no—the SNP—is not concerned with anything other than attacking Labour Members. I regret and resent that as not being in the interests of the Scottish people.
My hon. Friend makes a valid point.
The SNP has an extreme policy, but the Conservatives have another—a massive disinterest in anything that is Scottish or anything that is of relevance to the Scottish people. The whole debate about government in Scotland must be coloured by the Government's contempt and arrogance for Scottish affairs and Scottish policies.
You, Mr. Deputy Speaker, like the Secretary of State for Scotland, will not have had time to reflect on the recent lunch time missionary attempt by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, when he suggested that the Scots are always moaning and are still hooked on the dependency culture. He thinks that we should be unhooked and that we should be involved in the enterprise culture. Clearly that continues a saga of missionaries, as the noble Lord Young of Groffham and the Secretary of State for Scotland have recently visited Scotland. The people of Scotland are sick and tired of lectures from Ministers who do not understand Scottish culture and, more importantly, care a great deal less about it. They talk about dependency. Since the Tories were elected, another 230,000 Scots have become dependent on dole money and nearly 800,000 Scots are dependent on social security. We want Scots to be unhooked from dependency. It is sheer hypocrisy for the Government to advocate the enterprise culture when they have been the biggest culprits this century in putting more and more people on the dependency route.
That underlines the poverty of the Government's view on Scottish affairs, and obviously Labour Members could make political capital out of that. However, how much more supportive and constructive it would be if, when the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland replies this evening, he says that the Government are interested in Scotland and that they will consider devolution. Would that not be in the interests of the Scottish people and would that not show that all the parties are committed to those issues? I fear that he will not say that, but the Labour party is always optimistic and lives in hope.
The debate has highlighted the policies of the Opposition parties. The Labour party stands for a reasonable—in some respects radical—way forward for the Scottish people. For Conservative Members to argue that there is no popular mandate for devolution is arrant nonsense. The Government were reduced to a rump in the general election. Recent opinion polls show a goundswell of opinon in favour of some form of devolved government. The precise nature of it is not specified, but there is clearly a gut feeling that something has to be done to allow the Scots, within the United Kingdom framework, to debate matters that are esentially Scottish.
The debate should be about not whether we need or do not need a Scottish assembly, but, when we have a Scottish assembly, how that will impact on people in Scotland. It is important for all hon. Members to make that important connection in the minds of Scottish people between the assembly and the issues that affect their everyday lives. For example, housing reforms that are quite alien to many people and education reforms that have no particular focus on Scottish culture have been thrust upon us. That highlights the preserve of the Government to steal from London and to hijack the debate in Scotland. It is the same with National Health Service policies. Conservative Members always misconstrue the effects of the Scotland Bill. It will not overnight produce miracles, but in a democracy it will return what are essentially Scottish affairs to be dealt with in Scotland. Is that too much to ask of the mother of Parliaments? Labour Members do not think that it is.
We want to see devolved government in Scotland. We believe that it will be a small step forward, and we make no lavish claims about the impact that it will have. I make a plea for sensible, sane debate in Scotland. I also plead with the Tories to realise that they are governing Scotland and for them to show to the Scottish people that the contempt, arrogance and indifference to which they have been exposed over the past eight years will soon come to an end, and that all political parties can talk about democracy and devolution.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I raised earlier with Mr. Speaker the matter of the selection of amendments to the Liberal party's motion, and was told that the amendment that had been selected was that which appears on the Order Paper in the name of the Government. Against that background, is it not surprising that there are so few Conservative Members in the Chamber? Indeed, there are no Conservative Back Benchers present to support the Government's amendment.
The hon. Gentleman knows that it is not the Chair's responsibility whether Members are present or absent. Perhaps it would help the House if I were to repeat what Mr. Speaker said at the beginning of the debate, when he explained that he had selected the amendment that stands in the names of the Prime Minister and others.
It has been a long-held ambition of mine to try to explain to those who either cannot understand or will not listen why it is vital to give Scotland legislative control over its own affairs. Unfortunately, there are no Conservative Back Benchers present to hear what I have to say.
We have been told repeatedly, especially by the Secretary of State for Scotland, that there is no evidence to justify the establishment of a Scottish Parliament, but the right hon. and learned Gentleman is wrong to make that assertion. I shall take a few minutes to look at four very clear areas of evidence to support our contention.
First, all public opinion polls have shown, and do show, that the majority of people in Scotland want to have control over their own affairs. The Secretary of State for Scotland could come up with only one public opinion poll that reflected a contrary view, but that poll did not ask the people whether they wanted a Scottish Parliament or whether they wanted devolution. Instead, they were asked whether they were concerned about their jobs. Obviously, anyone would reply yes.
The second piece of evidence was provided by the 1979 referendum on devolution. A clear majority said yes.
There was a clear yes majority. We were bitterly deceived following the never-to-be-forgotten broadcast by Lord Home of the Hirsel, which was followed by the Prime Minister's promise that a no vote did not mean the end of devolution. The Government thought, wrongly, that they could toss out a sop to the Scottish people by arranging for the Scottish Grand Committee to meet in Edinburgh.
Following the referendum, the Government tried to say that the Scottish people were not wholeheartedly in support of devolution because only 32 per cent, had voted yes. It should be remembered that they were not asked to vote on the principle. Instead, they were voting on a Labour party Bill which fell far short of what was acceptable, most particularly and importantly on the issue of a voting system. There was a genuine and legitimate fear that a Scottish assembly would be dominated by the Labour party from the central belt that had been elected on a minority vote. I accept the Western Isles' argument, but I am talking about the 1979 referendum.
The third piece of evidence, and the most telling, was provided by the general election in June, when the number of Conservative Members in Scotland was reduced by over 50 per cent. The Conservative party in Scotland should ask itself why that happened. Of 72 Members in Scotland, 62 support at least devolution and power. The Conservative party in Scotland received only 24 per cent, of the vote. The alliance won seats, while the Conservative party lost them.
The Government must understand that 713,000 people voted Tory in Scotland while 2·25 million voted for other parties. Surely it is impossible to ignore such telling evidence. What more does the Conservative party want? Is it prepared to wait for the next general election, when the last remaining 10 Conservative Members will disappear from the face of Scotland? Is it only then that it will listen and believe?
The fourth piece of evidence comes from within the Conservative party, with the formation of the constitutional reform forum. This is a healthy development and I give it a warm welcome, especially as I understand that the group involved favours a fair electoral system and the abolition of one tier of local government.
A truly representative Parliament that has authority because it represents the voice of the people must fairly represent different strands of opinion in different regions of the country. The hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. McLeish) described proportional representation as a minor matter. That is not so to the people of Scotland. In Scotland, all parties are minorities. No one party commands a majority of the Scottish vote.
Does my hon. Friend agree that, although the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. McLeish) said that it was an obstacle, it is an important principle in a devolution Bill? It ill-becomes Labour Members that their party, the party of Keir Hardie, which during his time supported proportional representation, should now spurn the concept when there is the opportunity to arrive at a consensus in favour of devolution. I say that as the person who was the Welsh Liberal devolution spokesman during the Welsh referendum campaign.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that intervention.
A Parliament that represented political parties in proportion to their votes and gave equal value to every vote could be the foundation of a new sort of politics in Scotland.
The Labour party is a democratic organisation that has large support in one part of Scotland, but it should not ignore the facts. Labour gained only 42 per cent, of the vote at the general election, and that gave it 50 of the 72 Scottish seats. However, 58 per cent, of Scottish electors did not vote for it. In Glasgow the Labour party holds all 11 seats, but there are still some Tories in the city. Would the Labour party deny them representation? In the Grampian region the Labour party holds only two seats, and in the Highland and Border regions it has none. It holds none in Dumfries and Galloway either. I hope that the Labour party will reflect on why it refused to guarantee fair representation to the whole of Scotland.
It is the view of the Liberal party that it would be a gross betrayal of the people if they were delivered into the hands of a minority party. I am glad that the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) said at the Dispatch Box — I believe I heard him rightly — that if the Government brought forward a Bill that contained proportional representation he would be prepared to consider it.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way, and I am sure that the House generally is grateful to her as well for unseating a leading ex-Liberal. He is now doing as damaging a job for the Conservative party as he once did for the Liberal party.
First, does the hon. Lady appreciate that if her party's policy, as explained this evening—as I understand it, it is to reduce the number of Scottish Westminster Members—is pursued, the areas in which there will be reductions will be in the Highland and Border regions, where there is no Labour representation? The hon. Lady is making a fair speech, and it would be better if her hon. Friends allowed her to make it in her own way. Secondly, she said that her party is committed to one tier of local government. Does she consider it fair for the House to set up an assembly and instruct it on what it should do about local government or any other matter?
I disagree that there would be less representation from the Highland and Island areas of Scotland, and I would ensure that that did not happen. I shall return to the hon. Gentleman's point about single-tier local authorities later. The establishment of a Scottish Parliament means just that, and the name is of significance. English regions should have assemblies, but the same cannot apply to Scotland, for the obvious reason that it is a nation and not a region. We find it tiresome, nay repugnant, to be constantly compared with a region of England.
I should like to finish this point.
The late John Macintosh, whom I and many others admired, deliberately avoided the word assembly, for he too saw it as meaning a large local authority not suitable for the transfer of legislative power from central Government to a country with its own legal system.
The Scottish claim for the restoration of its own Parliament is indisputable. It was a dark day in our history—28 April 1707—when the Scottish Parliament met for the last time and Chancellor Seafield summed it up with the melancholy words:
Now there's ane end to ane auld song.
With great respect to the hon. Lady, she is getting the date wrong—it was 1 May. I have been trying to have it called Union day for many years, because that is when the Union was created. If the hon. Lady understands the history of Scotland, the kingdom of Fife existed before it was the united kingdom of Scotland, and Perthshire was a separate kingdom from Scotland. Why does she particularly imagine that Scotland as a nation, as she tends to call it, should be some sort of Liberal fantasy, when if we look at history we see that it can be separated differently?
It was on 28 April 1707 that the Scottish Parliament met for the last time. As to the kingdom of Fife, I do not believe that it has a legal or education system of its own. I am talking about the nation of Scotland.
The two Parliaments from the main parts of this island were to unite, but there was a grafting of the Scottish Parliament on to the English one. Today, we know that there must be a recasting of the relationship between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom if the United Kingdom is to survive. The need is, therefore, to provide a focus and forum that can clearly express the political will of the country and allow far greater participation in Government, particularly by the Scottish women. Thousands had eagerly, and with a sense of excitement and enthusiasm, anticipated a Scottish assembly following the referendum, yet their hopes were dashed and cold water was poured on their aspirations. They were dismissed out of hand in a most perfunctory and disdainful manner. The hurt and disappointment are not forgotten.
Not all is lost, and with good will a satisfactory solution can be found. That is why we have offered to the Government an answer that will stand the test of time and strengthen the unity of the United Kingdom.
The hon. Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke) asked about local government. The Government have repeatedly stated that a Scottish Parliament would be an extra tier of government, which is totally untrue. If one believes that, one has been listening to the Labour party. Any realistic Bill must contain a provision for the abolition of one tier of local government. There is no more classic example of that need than my own constituency of Argyll and Bute, which sits uneasily in the huge Strathclyde region. It has within its boundaries almost half the population of Scotland. It was accepted initially, albeit reluctantly, in 1979. That was due in no small way to the mammoth efforts made by the Reverend Geoffrey Shaw, who travelled extensively throughout the mainland and islands of Argyll to reassure the people that they would not be forgotten by a Glasgow-based candidate.
Evidence was submitted by Argyll and Bute council to the Stoddart committee of inquiry on local government in favour of the district becoming an all or most purpose local authority, similar to Western Isles, which was one of the big successes of local government reorganisation. If that had happened, we would not now be battling with the Labour-dominated Strathclyde region to keep our rural schools open. I hope that sense will prevail and that the urban-based councillors will realise that it is one thing to close a primary school in Glasgow, but that to do so in a place such as Argyll would tear the heart out of the small rural communities.
As a native of the county that the hon. Lady represents, I remember the old Argyll county council. It was one of those laird-ridden Highland county councils that paid its workers the minimum and provided them with the minimum facilities. It was those conditions that caused Strathclyde to invest a disproportionate amount of its resources in upgrading facilities, wages and conditions. Does the hon. Lady hark back to the days of Argyll county council, and would she like to see another laird-ridden Argyll and Bute single-tier authority instead of what presently exists?
I remember that the hon. Gentleman was strongly opposed to devolution when it was first suggested. I am not harking back to Argyll county council. I want to move forward with an all-purpose Argyll and Bute district, in conjunction with a Scottish Parliament.
I would remind the Secretary of State, if he were present, that there is an old Gaelic saying — [Interruption.] Conservative Members may groan. I shall tell the people of Scotland that they groaned.
Cha tuit caoran à cliabh falamh.
That means, "A peat will not fall from an empty creel." The Government's creel is empty as far as Scotland is concerned, but the Secretary of State is a sensible person, and he can fill it if he will but listen. Indeed, I hope that the whole Government, including the Prime Minister, will listen, for their adamant refusal to consider a Scottish legislature to look after our affairs flies in the face of all the injunctions and exhortations that we hear from them
to stand on our own feet and take responsibility. The Government say, "You must have freedom to choose." We want that freedom.
Conservative Members should heed this warning. The subject will not go away. Thousands of us will keep faith with those who have gone before, and who have worked over the years for Scottish home rule, simply because it is right. Like the Prime Minister, we shall go on and on. If it does not come in our lifetime, our children will pick up and carry the baton and will pass it on to succeeding generations for however long it takes. If the Government fail to honour the Tory pledges of the 1960s and of 1979, they will hear the cry "Let my people go" gathering volume and becoming ever louder.
It has been worth the waiting. As you probably know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I have been here for some six hours, but I am not complaining. The wait has allowed me to gather some interesting and anecdotal material with which to fill out my speech.
For the first time in my experience in Parliament, the alliance Bench is full — or, at least, nearly full. Two famous faces are missing: those of the hon. Members for Ross, Cromarty and Skye (Mr. Kennedy) and for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan). Perhaps that accounts for the cohesion of the Bench this evening.
I have also been able to listen to some of the speeches. In fact, unlike most of those on the alliance Bench, I have listened to all of them, which has given me a few parliamentary cameos. I listened with determination and tremendous patience to the hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross (Mr. Fairbairn) and, having listened to him—with more patience than interest—I can express only one hope. If I am ever skint and in the dock, I hope to God that he is not on the panel of legal aid lawyers, because he was, perhaps, this evening's worst advocate from the Conservative Benches.
The hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Irvine) said that he was the first English Member from the Government Benches to have made a speech. I have news for him. I heard the others, and he was the first Member from the Government Benches to make a speech. All that we heard before that was a collection of homilies, cliches, rumours, ambiguities and scaremongering.
Let me also refer in passing to the intervention from the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland, who, unfortunately, is not present. The hon. Gentleman has come a long way in the past six months. In June, he was unknown throughout Scotland. Today he is unknown throughout Britain, and his contribution this evening explains why. His hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Cromarty and Skye made an impassioned plea for a broad front on devolution—which, I am sure, would be widely welcomed by Labour Members, were it not for the fact that, on the most recent occasion when he had the opportunity to exhibit such a broad front — at the festival of democracy — he was the very person to condemn and try to scupper such a development.
I am grateful for the opportunity to listen to those contributions. I am also glad to have heard the Secretary of State's contribution. As far as I can tell, the right hon. and learned Gentleman has found it convenient, at every conceivable stage of this Parliament, either to curtail discussion on Scottish matters or to avoid it. I recall how swiftly he jumped to his feet — along with his hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary — to curtail the debate on the Scottish Development Agency; and with what glee he came into the Chamber, only a few days ago, to shout proudly and from a sedentary position that we had lost Scottish Question Time. It was nice to see today that he was prepared to take part in a debate on a Scottish issue.
A few years ago, the Secretary of State would not have been so reluctant to discuss Scottish affairs. A few years ago, he would have used all his undoubted skills of advocacy to explain to Parliament why there was a certain uniqueness about Scotland—why, indeed, there was an undoubted and inevitable case for devolution. Today, he told us that he had not changed his mind since those days. To put it baldly, he could have fooled me, and he could have fooled the people of Scotland. Of course he has changed his mind. It is not so much a U-turn as a great big circle. When the right hon. and learned Gentleman stood at the Dispatch Box today, I recalled an old adage. If a week is a long time in politics, a political promotion must represent a millennium. The sad fact is that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has been prepared to lay down his principles for his political career. If I may paraphrase Burns, he has been "Bought and sold for Treasury gold. What a parcel of rogues in an administration."
By watching the minutes of his political career, I fear that the Secretary of State runs the grave risk of losing the hours of that same career. However, the question will be asked outside the House: if he can so swiftly, abruptly and completely change his mind on a matter so central to the people of Scotland, how can he be trusted on any other single matter that affects Scotland?
The Secretary of State has been left not only without principles, but almost without friends. I am told that, before the right hon. and learned Gentleman flew down here this week, he found himself at Glasgow airport short of change to make an urgent telephone call. He asked a passer-by to lend him 10p to telephone one of his friends. I am told that the passer-by replied, "Here is 50p, Malcolm. You can telephone all of them."
As recently as this weekend the Secretary of State was not so much stabbed in the back as harpooned in the chest by his recent and erstwhile colleague the right hon. Member for Kincardine and Deeside (Mr. Buchanan-Smith). I do not for one minute doubt the integrity of the right hon. Gentleman but we should reflect on the fact that this sudden, public reiteration by a leading Scottish Tory — if that is not a contradiction in terms — proves conclusively the old adage that the prospect of hanging in the morning concentrates the mind wonderfully. But the Tories cannot even get that right. They wait until the executioner, in the form of the Scottish electorate, opens the trapdoor beneath them, which causes some of them to concentrate their minds from the other side of life.
Even then, having been hanged, drawn and quartered by the Scottish electorate, some of them do not.
Recently I heard the Secretary of State urge his Scottish colleagues to greater efforts. He called on them to be "Apostles for Conservatism" — apostles of free enterprise. The danger about the biblical analogy is that there were 12 apostles—a mass base that the Tory party in Scotland has been completely unable to replicate. If the Tory party can muster not 12 apostles but only 10, we should remember that among the depleted apostles there may be a few doubting Thomases and that one of them might be prepared to take the 30 pieces of silver. We are also entitled to ask whether there is one among them with sufficient guts to deny their mistress in Downing street once—never mind three times. I do not believe that we shall find such a person among the depleted ranks of the apostles.
In the absence of principles, friends and numbers, the Government have been forced back on their old allies and weapons—misrepresentation and scaremongering. Their strategy is predicted by their capacity consistently and intentionally to misunderstand the Opposition's arguments on devolution. In this case, ignorance is not bliss; it is a political godsend. It allows the Government to construct their own arguments for devolution on a false basis and then to demolish them with the ease with which any fool can demolish a man of straw.
There are those in Scotland who, guided by frustration rather than by political calculation, have trodden the road to separatism, but the numbers are extremely few. For Conservative Members consistently to confuse the argument for devolution with the argument for separatism is totally and intentionally to misconstrue the argument for devolution. To say that the argument for separatism is the norm in Scotland is completely to misrepresent both the Opposition's arguments and the sentiments of the Scottish people. To assert, without so much as a political blush, that there is no demand for devolution in Scotland shows the short-sightedness and the blindness that afflicted the Tory party before the last election and that is obviously still alive and well in the body politic.
I do not intend to deal in detail with the opinion poll that was published tonight. It has been dealt with fully by the hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing) and by several of my right hon. and hon. Friends. Let me deal, however, with the opinion poll that was referred to with such confidence in his speech by the Secretary of State for Scotland. Having selectively picked his opinion poll, when he got to the bottom of it he said that only 4 per cent, of the people of Scotland want devolution. He swiftly and quietly moved over the figure that lies just above the 4 per cent. I do not know whether hon. Members heard what that figure is. It shows that only 4 per cent, of the people of Scotland believe that rent and rates are an issue.
If 4 per cent, in that opinion poll was enough to persuade the Secretary of State for Scotland to impose a new rates regime on Scotland—the iniquitous poll tax—it is good enough to introduce devolution, which would benefit the people of Scotland. To portray the case for devolution as a sop to nationalism is to belittle the case as well as to misunderstand the cause.
The Opposition have certainly not argued that devolution should be a substitute for a United Kingdom Government. Devolution has been argued as a necessary complement to United Kingdom Government if there is to be good government in Scotland. It was another of the red herrings brought in by the Secretary of State for Scotland. Indeed, the Secretary of State has brought in more red herrings than a Russian fishing trawler. He raised the question of tax. He said that if there was devolution of power to Scotland the Scottish people would be taxed more. Fair enough. Even if we accept his assumptions, he suggested that there might be a trade-off of higher tax for better services and more say for the individual over the individual's affairs. However, under this Government the average family in Scotland is now paying £27 more in tax. In other words, it is paying a vast increase in tax for worse services and no say in personal affairs. If the Secretary of State's suggestion was put to the Scottish people, their choice would be obvious.
The Secretary of State also raised the West Lothian question. That question has been answered on several occasions by my hon. Friends the Members for Paisley, South (Mr. Buchan) and for Falkirk, East (Mr. Ewing).
Indeed, the hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart) also constantly raises this question. I do not intend to go over the matter again. However, the West Lothian question raises an anomaly. No Opposition Member has ever suggested that it does not raise an anomaly, but life is full of anomalies. I want to raise another "West" question which is a greater anomaly, the Westminster question. How can 10 people who have no social base whatsoever in Scotland, who have been reduced to a rump of their previous glorious selves, govern the nation of Scotland? That is an anomaly even within the framework of the United Kingdom constitution.
Because I believe that, no matter how frustrated one may be, one cannot wish away 300 years of historical reality. Trying to separate the Scottish and the English economy is like trying to separate the "kernel from the great oak." Those are the words of Jim Sillars. I do not know what has caused him to change his mind, because he was right when he said that in 1986. Despite all the frustrations that I feel, I remain a Socialist who wishes to change the United Kingdom Parliament and its industrial and economic policies towards socialism. That is not incompatible with recognising the diversity of the United Kingdom and attempting to enrich the United Kingdom by bringing in the diversity of the tapestry of nations.
The Opposition case is fourfold and simple and has been repeated time and time again. It is democratic. It is not simply a matter, as was suggested, of occasionally holding Parliament in Edinburgh or in Leeds. It is not a matter, as some Conservative Members have suggested, of a touring mediaeval monarchical circus with courtiers. The problem is that the courtiers are already in Edinburgh and they are making the decisions. Thousands of Scottish civil servants are enacting hundreds of pieces of Scottish legislation. There is even a handful of bright men, far brighter than those who at present are burdened with presiding over the Scottish Office. I am not arguing that geographical proximity is a sufficient condition for democratic control, but it is a necessary condition.
Our case is also decentralist within the framework of the United Kingdom. As right hon. and hon. Members have explained, this is the most centralised nation state of the modern western industrialised nations. Is it not an irony that the monolithic leadership of one of the most monolithic nations, the Soviet Union, is desperately trying to decentralise, while the political commissar sent from Downing street to Scotland has turned his face completely against any form of decentralisation?
All Opposition Members recognise the economic and social intertwining of the Scottish and English nations. That is why we have argued that the main levers of economic, fiscal and industrial power should stay at the United Kingdom level if devolution of power is the political equivalent of worker participation and consumer input into a good business. All of those arguments apply equally to other regions of England and Wales. They are on the periphery of the south-east golden triangle. Under the free market operated by the Government, they are being economically and socially crucified.
We support any area which wishes to have its own form of devolution. The timing and the form might not be the same, because unless devolution is rooted in historical reality only a false imposition from outside will be possible.
As usual, the hon. Gentleman misunderstands politics. There are developments which bring the north, Wales, Scotland, Manchester and south Yorkshire together. Slowly but surely we are beginning to realise that the uniting factors are far greater than the dividing factors and the golden triangle which revolves round the City of London.
I accept that my argument is nationalist in many ways, but I speak only for myself. I am talking about not the narrow nationalism of the Scottish National party, but a nationalism that recognises the cultural diversity of the Scottish people. That nationalism recognises our characteristics and true history which, over a period, has come to make us believe that we are a nation. There is a feeling of national consciousness. I am not saying that Scotland has ever been a nation state, because obviously it has not.
I do not believe that one can separate Scotland's economy from that of the rest of the United Kingdom, but, despite all the protestations from our opponents, that feeling of national consciousness will not disappear. It is there. It is a daily, living reality in the workplace, the pubs, the shops, the streets and the homes. It is a feeling of being Scottish. If the Secretary of State or anybody else doubts that, I suggest that the next time he pays a visit to Hampden park he comes with me to the terraces instead of languishing in the royal box with his friends. He might then understand the Scottish heritage. [HON. MEMBERS: "What about Ibrox?"] To keep everybody happy we should have to mention every football club in Scotland.
If the Secretary of State does not understand what I have tried to say, that explains his lack of understanding of the motion and the Government's negative attitude to it. The real threat to the unity of the United Kingdom stems not from a recognition of that reality but from an obstinate refusal to recognise it and to try to uderstand it.
I am sorry tht the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mrs. Michie) has left the Chamber. It is par for the course for the Liberals in the west of Scotland, when they want to have a go, to throw something in the Oban and West Highland Times or some other Strathclyde newspaper. The hon. Lady should remember that many local authority workers are grateful that Strathclyde took over Argyll. I was a full-time officer covering Argyll and I know that the conditions in which people had to work under the old Argyll county council were deplorable. Lorry drivers suffered from frostbite because the management would not give them gloves. That was one of the first cases that I was asked to take up as a union officer. As soon as Strathclyde took over, the cry went up for parity with Glasgow
The Liberals go on about proportional representation. I put it to them that in other countries in Europe which have proportional representation Fascists are sometimes returned. As secretary of the Italian group, I meet many Italian parliamentarians who say that they deplore the power that the far Right has achieved in Italy as a result of proportional representation. Some members of the extreme Right in this country, who cannot get power through the normal system but who could get it through proportional representation, will seek representation in Parliament by that means.
I recall from my experience in Glasgow that when the SNP had the balance of power council meetings went on until 10 o'clock and sometimes 12 o'clock at night. That is what happens when a very small group has the balance of power. It is the balance of power that the minority groups seek to achieve through proportional representation. People have rejected hung councils and hung Parliaments because they know that such a system gives the minority groups power out of all proportion to what they deserve.
I hope that the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) will tell us how he would deal with the problem of the constituency link of every Member of Parliament and every councillor if proportional representation were introduced.
I represent Springburn. All hon. Members represent constituencies. They have a feel for their constituencies and they know the local people. They know what is going on. If they do not, they deserve to lose their seats. They have to look after not only the business in this House but the problems of their constituents and their constituencies. I was returned with 69 per cent, of the poll. The smaller parties can get a vote in Springburn just by lodging a nomination paper and nothing else. In the 1983 election, the SDP candidate told me that he took one half shift off work to fight the election, and he turned up at the Glasgow Kelvin hall for the count. That was his sole contribution to the election in Springburn. The Liberals, the Social Democrats and the Owenites tell us that they are entitled to proportional representation and that the electorate should vote for them on the basis of that half shift dedicated at Springburn.
Members of a panel of people such as Bill Rodgers and the former right hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead, who was beaten, would be picked to come to Parliament or to a Scottish assembly. I hope that, when the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire tells us what a great system proportional representation is, he will highlight the problems that it can throw up. It can often lead to no decisions being taken. I believe that, when the Scottish people get the assembly, they will have a first-past-the-post winner-take-all, system. If the members of that body do not win the people's confidence, they deserve not to be returned at the next election. That is a better system than the alternative promoted by the ragtag and bobtail alliance parties.
I shall not follow the argument deployed by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Martin). There will be occasions, to which I look forward, to debate the rights and wrongs of proportional representation at greater length. There are flaws in the systems in some other countries. If parties set their face against inter-party cooperation under a system of proportional representation they deserve the results that they inevitably get. Evidence in other mature democracies, and certainly in many competitor countries in Europe, illustrates beyond doubt that the system can work well and produce a much more modern and efficient method of government than our present one.
I know that the hon. Gentleman shares my wish that the Under-Secretary of State should have the maximum time to deploy the Government's argument.
I hope that the House feels that it has had value for money tonight. We have heard our fair share of the usual rhetoric and ribaldry, a fair dash of pedantry and the usual agony and ecstacy from the hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross (Mr. Fairbairn). We have also been treated to a dose of sophistry from the Secretary of State for Scotland. He says he has not shifted his position, but is waiting for the sanction of at least 40 per cent, of the electorate before he is prepared to have the courage to vote for it. We shall study his interesting statement which, no doubt, will surface in future debates in the same way as his previous speech, which was used to such good effect by my right hon. Friend the Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Steel) in opening this debate.
The Secretary of State for Scotland just managed to put his name on the list of those supporting the Government amendment. The Secretary of State for Wales seems to be in a more elevated Government position than the right hon. and learned Gentleman.
We welcome strangers in our midst. I am glad that they take part in our debates.
The Government amendment refers to
no evidence of popular demand".
Hon. Members have dealt earlier with whether there is evidence of popular demand. The amendment refers also to the "benefits" that the present system bestows on the Scottish electorate. Reforms made at any time and in any place are usually attacked and assailed on the basis that there is no demand for the change and that any change given effect would actually make the position worse. The debate has in my submission missed some opportunities to consider the difficulties under which we labour. Is there widespread satisfaction in Scotland with the present system? The House has not, I think, heard enough about that, and I look forward to opportunities in future debates to deploy some of the arguments in greater detail.
Members from north of the border do not have enough time to deal with Scottish matters. I do not believe that any of us really think that there is enough time.
There is a burgeoning congestion in the legislative process which we are obliged to consider in this place. There has also been a worrying dilution of the Scottishness—if I can put it that way—in some of our legislation, in civil as well as criminal law, during the past few years. There is real worry and concern about the remoteness of the centralisation that has occurred and that has been referred to earlier. The whole style and approach of the way in which we tackle the legislative process in this House requires urgent and necessary reform. I find it difficult to give proper financial scrutiny to what is going on in St. Andrew's house and during the debates on the Scottish Estimates.
Whatever satisfaction there is in the present system, it is sadly not evident to me. Indeed, quite the reverse is the case. The wholesale reform of this House as well as the need for devolution should be urgent matters on the current policies agenda. There are examples of other countries which do things better. I hope that the debate will contribute to creating demand for discussion on these matters which is needed north of the border.
We have heard from hon. Members of all parties that change for change's sake has its dangers and can bring problems in its train. I accept that and recognise that one-party rule in perpetuity would be difficult. I would say that no matter what party was in power. Even if my hon. Friend the Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Sir R. Johnston) was in charge of Scotland, I should still make that point, but would make it more quietly. I should still say that it would be a bad thing—[HON. MEMBERS: "It would be the hon. Member who would be in charge."] I am getting more frightened as I go along. I am not making a point against the Labour party but think that that point needs to be made.
Desire for total independence is certainly not constructive, as hon. Members of all parties have stated. There is, too, a worry north of the border that some of the extra powers could be—I put it no higher than that— abused, and that, of course, would be a bad thing. Finally, if we leave the existing system of local government in place, we should be open to the challenge that there was too much government and that the machinery of government north of the border had too many layers. That is why we have put three checks and balances into our motion. The first is the need for a system of proportional representation—
While the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) is talking about proportional representation and advocating it so eloquently, will he tell us when he was converted to it and why, because I remember that when he and I were members of St. Giles ward Labour party he was fervently against it?
At least I am honest enough to say that I have changed my mind which is more than some other hon. Members have done.
The other two important checks and balances that are necessary have been carefully considered. They have not been included by accident. The second is the need to remove one tier of local government and the third is the need to tie any constitutional reform of this nature into a rolling programme of United Kingdom-wide reform. With good faith, that could be done.
I should like to pick up on a few of the points that have been raised by Conservative Members. The Government have a problem. As has been said, doing nothing is a political act. If the Government leave the situation as it is, F can see a situation developing where the Conservative party north of the border will be reduced even further in its numbers in the House after the next election. Although I regret it, I can also see that in the United Kingdom as a whole there is a chance that the number of Conservative Members will increase. If that happens, there will be a real problem and it will be much more difficult to solve in four or five years' time.
We should all be honest and open about party advantage. I argue for proportional representation because I believe that the alliance is unfairly represented in terms of the proportion of votes cast north of the border.
Yes, indeed. That needs to be put right by proportional representation, but Labour and Conservative Members must also state clearly what their position is. As my hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Cromarty and Skye (Mr. Kennedy) has said, it is impossible for us to carry the argument in the Highlands, the south-east and the south-west if the Labour party seeks to control the whole of Scotland from Strathclyde and the central industrial belt. We must face the argument squarely and admit that we are arguing our individual positions on the basis of clear party advantage, but let the electorate judge the merits of the respective arguments.
Will my hon. Friend remind the hon. Member for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Martin), who spoke so passionately just before my hon. Friend, that it is neither right nor fair for the entire city of Glasgow to have no representation whatever other than by the Labour party?
I will not give way again.
The hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) must accept that he is not the only player in the park. If he goes around slide-tackling potential team mates, as he did today, not only will a red card be deserved but the procurator fiscal of Glasgow should take an interest in the televised action replay. The hon. Gentleman's natural ebullience and enthusiasm sometimes get the better of him. He must be careful not to destroy the possibility of keeping a coherent Opposition together as that will simply let the Government off the hook. The hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart) is already chortling to himself and rubbing his hands, waiting for the Opposition to fall out among themselves, which would be to.no one's benefit but the hon. Member for Eastwood.
The hon. Member for Eastwood set up a whole string of Aunt Sallys and then invited hon. Members to knock them down. He said that our proposal would lead to confusion, conflict and constitutional difficulty, but what does he think we have now? That is why we are debating this urgent and important issue tonight. The hon. Gentleman set out to frighten people with a whole lot of illogical and irrelevant nonsense.
The hon. Member for Eastwood said that federalism was not on the agenda. I am prepared to take that one on the chin because we propose to put federalism on the agenda.
Our motion refers to the proposal being the first step.
The hon. Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Ewing) made a useful and thoughtful contribution. If that is how he intends to continue the debate, I shall be happy to respond in kind. He said that it was wrong to make proportional representation a precondition for talks. I seek as strenuously as I can to persuade my colleagues that it should not be a precondition of talks, but they must recognise that it is an important part of our philosophy and our sincerely held principles. The hon. Member for Falkirk, East spoke about local government. I recognise his experience of local government and accordingly will listen carefully to what he has to say. We might be able to get around some of the points he raised by strengthening community councils. He must also consider the difficulty of how a region of the size and importance of Strathclyde would sit comfortably with an elected Scottish assembly north of the border. Over-government is a card which the opponents of devolution will use. If we who support the principle do not address it somehow, it will be to our detriment because the Opposition will continually use it to effect against us.
I tried to interrupt the hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro), when he was speaking about Strathclyde, to point out that he was the Minister who, together with the Secretary of State for Defence, bulldozed the Local Government Bill through the House. My right hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Millan) moved an amendment in Committee to stop Strathclyde being divided into four sub-regions. He was the Minister who rejected my right hon. Friend's constructive amendment.
I can tell the hon. Member for Falkirk, East that the hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) went out of his way to say that people should not take dogmatic views on these matters. We live in hope that together we will persuade him of the error of his ways.
I was struck by the speech of the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Mr. McKelvey) who said—he qualified it, and I look forward to reading his speech—that if the Government were to bring forward a Bill which contained proportional representation, he would be prepared to support it. On behalf of my hon. Friends, I want to make it clear to the House that there is no difference on this Bench on that question. If there were a Second Reading debate on the Floor of the House this evening which did not deal with proportional representation, we would vote against it. However, we are not anywhere near that situation yet. At this stage in the public debate we are prepared to argue our corner constructively with anyone. The real prospect of legislation would come only from a sympathetic Government, so we shall have wait for another Government and carefully consider the position presented to us at that time.
In conclusion, the prospectus that we have set out for the House to consider in this motion is in our view a systematic and considered way to bring forward a rolling programme of reform. I am convinced that, given good will, it is possible to effect changes for the better in the government of Scotland. I seek support from both sides of the House. There has been some talk about splits one way or the other. I believe that, if we are honest about it, the splits are across parties as well as between parties and across the Floor of the House. There are strands of feeling and different nuances in all parties—and rightly so—on this important issue. In bringing forward this motion, we are right to seek support from both sides of the House. We desperately need a more democratic system of government, a less remote system of government, a system which is more responsive and less bureaucratic, a more modern and less class-based system of government for Scotland and for the United Kingdom. An essential element of our motion is a United Kingdom-wide method of devolution of political power. It should contain some system of proportionality, and some reductions in the structure of local government.
I shall end with this important plea: whatever our view of our particular party advantage, whatever our differences at this stage of the public debate, we need to come together as Opposition parties and express our opposition to the status quo. Even if we could agree that the current position does not measure up to the needs and demands made on it today, it would be a small step forward. It would put the onus squarely on the Government to justify their denial in principle of the system of decentralised political power that Scotland wants and needs.
This has been a wide-ranging debate in what has become a long-running saga. It has been in the nature of an hors d'oeuvres in preparation for the Bill that will come forward in due course from the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar).
The hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) and others spoke of the demand for devolution. I want to address the question: how substantial is that demand? It was precisely that matter that prompted me to ask the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot):
In the event of the Government failing to get a Second Reading for the devolution Bill, will the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues consider the use of a referendum"?
The right hon. Gentleman, who was then the Leader of the House, replied:
That is not the right way to proceed". — [Official Report, 3 August 1976; Vol. 916–1, c. 1465.]
As it happened, the Bill received a Second Reading, but then failed because of insufficient support for a guillotine from Labour Members. The subject of a referendum came back on to the agenda in an attempt to persuade more Labour Members to vote for the Bill, but many of them were so deeply uneasy that they supported George Cunningham's 40 per cent, rule, which prevented the implementation of the Scotland Act. Of course, Mr. Cunningham is now a member of the SDP.
During that Parliament, I received only 12 letters about devolution—half for and half against. The referendum was extremely inconclusive and did not provide a sound basis for fundamental constitutional reform. Some 1·1 million people voted for it, a greater number did not vote and 1·2 million voted against it. Many of Scotland's islands and regions voted against it, including Orkney and Shetland and The Borders—both represented by Liberal Members of Parliament — Dumfries, Galloway, Grampian and Tayside. In those circumstances, the Secretary of State was entitled to reach the view, in the Scottish Grand Committee of 30 June 1986:
we have to accept that if in Scotland there is for all practical purposes a dead heat, if in Wales there is a large majority against devolution and if in England there is clearly major opposition to devolution, we cannot sensibly embark on a system of fundamental constitutional change … based on a tiny majority of those who bother to vote in one part of the United Kingdom." — [Official Report, Scottish Grand Committee, 30 June 1986; c. 10–11.]
As the Minister has referred to the Labour Government of 1974 to 1979, will he confirm that, together with the then hon. Member representing Cathcart, he had in his election address — as the Tory party did in its Scottish election manifesto — a commitment to establish a Scottish assembly with tax-raising powers?
The hon. Gentleman is incorrect. There was never any suggestion of the Conservative party supporting a separate Executive nor of tax-raising powers. The Douglas-Home scheme was a minimalist scheme and did not imply a separate Executive.
I must tell the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mrs. Michie) that the poll to which the Secretary of State referred is not the only poll. I have with me an earlier poll, published in The Scotsman, which asked:
what do you think are the two or three most important election issues?
Unemployment rated 62 per cent., the Health Service 31 per cent., pensions 24 per cent, and housing—mentioned by the hon. Member for Motherwell, North (Dr. Reid) —19 per cent. Towards the bottom of the list AIDS rated 4 per cent, and below that devolution rated only 2 per cent.
I did, and devolution rated 2 per cent. However, as I said, it is an earlier poll.
Of the substantial reasons for opposing the motion, the first relates to the office of Secretary of State and the number of Scottish Members of Parliament. I have beside me a significant document, which every student of
devolution will have read, entitled, "Don't Butcher Scotland's Future," written by the hon. Member for Midlothian (Mr. Eadie), whom I am glad to see here, and Mr. Jim Sillars, the then secretary of the Ayr constituency Labour party. The document states:
we must meet the challenge of the Scottish National Party"—
something which Mr. Sillars has since done by joining it. There is one paragraph in the document with which I wholeheartedly agree. It states:
We start off determined to retain two basic essentials to future Scottish progress. We must keep for Scotland her seat in the British Cabinet as of right and we must continue to send our large number of Scottish MPs to the Parliament at Westminster where, no matter what happens, crucial decisions bearing on Scotland and all of the British Isles will continue to be taken.
This is a matter of considerable sensitivity.
During the devolution debate in the 1970s, the most memorable exchange which I witnessed took place between the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) and my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor), who then represented Glasgow, Cathcart. My hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East said:
let me remind him of what was said on 19th August 1974 in The Scotsman. It was reported:
'Mr. John Smith, M.P. for North Lanark, claimed that members of the party who were pressing for devolution to a Scottish Government without the loss of the office of the Secretary of State and a reduction in the number of M.P.s at Westminster were being dishonest.'"—[Official Report,14 November 1977; Vol. 939, c. 185.]
I would not go so far as that, but those who believe that the creation of a Scottish Parliament will not inevitably affect the office of Secretary of State and claim that it could be retained with a seat in the Cabinet are being wholly unrealistic. The leader of the Liberal party, to his credit, made an admission to that effect. [HON. MEMBERS: "An assertion."] He also made a significant assertion that there would be fewer Scottish Members of Parliament. The office of Secretary of State, stripped of a block grant for Scotland which would go to the Scottish Executive, without a Department, and lacking the powers to legislate on a wide range of subjects, would diminish in importance and influence and become a cypher.
My next point concerns the reduction in the number of Members of Parliament which the leader of the Liberal party is prepared to accept, but there are many Labour Members who do not want to see the number of Scottish Members reduced. The fact is that Scotland now has more Members of Parliament than on a pro rata basis can be justified, on the grounds of geographical circumstances and by the fact that we have a different legal system and, in some respects, a different way of life. However, these arguments would not apply if there were a separate Scottish Parliament. If housing, health, education and all substantial Scottish Office responsibilities were given to a Scottish Parliament, there could be no compelling justification for Scotland having such a high representation of Members of Parliament. In the one part of the United Kingdom which has had devolved Parliament, the number of Members of Parliament was considerably reduced and there was no seat in the Cabinet.
My second objection to the Bill relates to the West Lothian question.
That argument was put forward by the hon. Member for Motherwell, North when he referred to the "Don't Butcher Scotland's Future" document, which states:
It is common knowledge that the Scottish economy became fully integrated with the rest of the UK. during the first industrial revolution. Industrial and financial patterns set at that time have grown so profound that to separate them now would be as difficult as extracting the original acorn from a great oak.
I do not want to see a reduction in the influence of Scottish Members in the House. I believe that their influence should stretch to all parts of the United Kingdom and beyond.
The leader of the Liberal party made an assertion that there is no answer to the West Lothian question. I recognise that to some extent federalism would avoid the problem, but that assumes that all parts of the United Kingdom would accept federalism. There is no evidence of demand for such a far-reaching change in England and Wales.
In order to ascertain the intention of the Labour party Front-Bench spokesman on the West Lothian question, I asked the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) a question in the Standing Committee on the Local Government Bill. I asked him: if there were a Scottish assembly, would Scottish Members give up their right to vote on English domestic issues? That is a simple question, but he did not have a simple answer. He said:
there may be a brief period of two or three years in which Scottish Members will be interfering in English domestic affairs, but that will quickly disappear."—[Official Report, Standing Committee A, 21 July 1987; c. 20.]
The hon. Gentleman mentioned two or three years, but why not four, five, six or even eight or nine years? If Scottish matters are to be devolved to a Scottish Parliament and Scottish Members cannot vote on them, why should they be allowed to vote on the equivalent English subjects instead? The hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Mr. McKelvey) said that he does not want to vote, but Labour Front-Bench spokesmen have the authority and it is they who wish to introduce the Bill. They have made no such assertion and I do not believe they will.
An assembly would be a recipe for strife. Conflict would be built in. We would be on a one-way street to independence. An Edinburgh assembly would concentrate power, not devolve it. Those are not my words but the words of the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell).
The Minister is making a powerful point about the recipe for conflict on the basis of the proposals before the House. As one of only 10 Scottish Conservative Members out of 72, how does he justify his job as a Minister at the Scottish Office imposing radical changes on the people of Scotland when they do not want and did not vote for the changes?
We fought the British election on British terms. It is significant that the Labour party has formed three Governments since the war in which it failed to have a majority of English Members. Indeed, the nationalisation of the shipbuilding industry, which went through on only one vote, is a good example. The majority of English Members voted against that measure and the balance was tipped by Scottish Members. Sometimes the results of a British election work in favour of the Opposition and sometimes the Government. On the basis of the present constitution, that is fair and should be accepted.
The next and most weighty objection to the motion is the fact that an assembly would have revenue-raising powers. The alliance's manifesto narrates that the
Scottish Parliament would have substantial powers to assist and guide the Scottish economy.
That is said to be achieved through its decision on the overall level of public spending and the allocation of spending between the programmes for which it will be responsible.
The hon. Gentleman is talking about revenue-raising powers. He was reminded by my right hon. Friend the leader of the Liberal party of what Lord Douglas-Home said at the time of the referendum. Did the Minister agree with Lord Douglas-Home when he said that the defect of the Scotland Act 1978 was that it lacked revenue-raising powers?
I did not agree with that assertion. The Conservative party has never been committed to tax-raising powers for a Scottish assembly. If the hon. Gentleman does his homework he will find out that what I say is correct. The Conservative party has always been opposed to the creation of a separate Executive. The objectives in the motion can be achieved only by raising the level of personal taxation in Scotland.
I am sorry; I shall not give way. I have just given way. I have many points to make and I do not have much time left.
Also, the objectives can be achieved only by taking resources from more profitable industries to subsidise uncompetitive industries, so driving away the very industries that we want to encourage.
I am most grateful to the Minister for giving way on this vital point, since he and his Government consistently argue that, if there were a devolved assembly or a Parliament in Scotland, Scottish people would be subjected to additional taxation. What does he say about the current situation, whereby domestic and business ratepayers in Scotland pay far in excess of their counterparts south of the border? How does he square that?