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Commons Chamber

Volume 940: debated on Wednesday 30 November 1977

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House Of Commons

Wednesday 30th November 1977

The House met at half-past Two o'clock

Prayers

[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Oral Answers To Questions

Oral Answers To Questions

The House is aware that we have been able to reach several more Questions recently because supplementary questions and the content of ministerial replies have been briefer. I look expectantly to some more co-operation today.

Scotland

Health Centres (Rent Charges)

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he intends to review the rent charges to doctors who decide to participate in health centres.

I see no reason to review the existing arrangements under which the rent for accommodation in health centres is calculated by a formula designed to recover the capital costs of the health centre over a period of 60 years.

I appreciate the points made by the Minister about rent charges, but may I draw his attention to a recent decision by the Ayrshire and Arran Health Board not to proceed with health centres at Irvine and Saltcoats because of opposition from local doctors who are concerned about the overheads charged for these centres? Has he any plans to review these overheads, in view of the legitimate complaints of local doctors?

My hon. Friend has gone to the crux of the matter, namely, the overheads, about which there have been complaints. Officials in my Department are examining the matter, and if general practitioners have ideas to put to us we are prepared to consider them.

Is the Minister aware that the escalation of all kinds of costs and expenses in running them has put the whole concept of health centres in some danger? Will he consider introducing into Scotland the practice adopted in English legislation whereby doctors are not put to extra expense by moving into health centres from their previous practices?

The hon. Gentleman fails to understand the difference in the situation between England and Scotland. In 1967, when the legislation was introduced, it was for local authorities to provide health centres. That has never been the position in Scotland. In England, changes have happened as a result of the reorganisaiton of the National Health Service. In Scotland, doctors are represented by the Medical Services Committee. The committee has not approached us, but if it does so we shall consider its representations.

Is the Minister aware that comprehensive health centres are now being placed in jeopardy by doctors because they change their minds about participating after the centres are built? Will the Minister arrange an early meeting with the Health Board, as requested by me on 3rd November?

It is regrettable that doctors are changing their minds. They should expect to pay more for much better conditions. On the question of a meeting with the Health Board, I have written to my hon. Friend saying that at present I do not think it advisable for me to meet the board. The problem is more widespread than just one area.

Highlands And Islands Airports

2.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what is his policy on the transfer of Highland and Islands airports from the Civil Aviation Authority to the British Airports Authority.

The Government have not yet reached a decision on this matter, but my right hon. Friend is in close consultation about it with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade, who is responsible for civil aviation, including airports.

I thank the Minister for that reply. Will he bear in mind that Scottish Office consultations with the Department of Trade show that the proposed switch-over is opposed by all the staff in the airports concerned, and that there is all-party opposition to it in Scotland?

The right hon. Gentleman knows that Ministers in the Scottish Office have consulted a variety of interests, including Members of Parliament. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland will take these matters into consideration when he discusses the matter with the Department of Trade.

Is the Minister aware that few positive reasons have been given for changing to the British Airports Authority, but does he not agree that the overriding consideration must be whether costs and prices are to be raised and how this will affect local people? Aviation costs are constantly rising, and as a result my constituents are seriously handicapped.

We are all conscious of the social and economic consequences of airport policy. That is why we are taking these matters into consideration. I do not think that it necessarily follows that any form of transfer will result in higher charges.

In declaring an interest as a private hirer, may I ask whether the Minister is aware that light aircraft operators and private pilots are concerned about the possibility of change, in that landing fees and parking charges will go up, and that the increases should be resisted at all costs?

These are matters for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade. We in the Scottish Office have always been conscious of all the aspects of policy in this matter. There are heavy subsidies, because we are aware of the social consequences.

Is the Minister aware of the strong feelings that exist in Scotland about this possible transfer, and does he realise that it will be bitterly resented if any decision is made before the matter has been fully debated in the House?

Ministers cannot go further than they already have. We have already listened to almost all the hon. Members who have a direct interest and to others with indirect interests. But the hon. Gentleman's question is one for the Leader of the House, and I shall pass it on.

Employment

3.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement on the success of Government measures to reduce unemployment in Scotland.

More than 52,000 persons are currently benefiting from the various employment protection and creation measures introduced by the Government in Scotland.

It is welcome that 52,000 persons should be benefiting in this way, but will not the Government give a St. Andrew's Day present to the Scottish Development Agency and meet its request that it should share in the oil revenue to aid development in Scotland?

The agency will have a significantly improved budget next year, and will have much more than it has spent in the past year. It will have more than £80 million, which is a considerable sum of money.

May we have an assurance that the Government are still doing everything possible to find a speedy solution to the unemployment problem at Scottish Timber Products? Will the Minister condemn the SNP, which last night voted against financial assistance for an English mill which will help to provide jobs for Scottish forestry workers, and condemn the cynical opportunism—

Order. Questions must be addressed to the Minister only on matters for which he is responsible.

Order. I have just explained to the hon. Gentleman that the Minister is not responsible for how others vote.

I am glad that you said that, Mr. Speaker, because I should not like to be held responsible for the completely cynical behaviour of the SNP during last night's debate.

On my hon. Friend's specific question, yes, we are making every effort to find a solution to this difficult problem, and I hope that we shall do so.

Does the Minister agree that the latest figures show that there are now 15 unemployed Scots for every vacancy and that in some areas the figures are worse? Can he give an assurance that there will be no cut-back on the major new steel investment programme which is needed to revive Scotland's steel industry?

The problems in the steel industry are not just in Scotland or the United Kingdom, but world-wide. One of the things that the Government wish to preserve in this difficult situation is a large forward investment programme, and we intend to do that.

14.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what recent discussions he has had with the Scottish CBI and Scottish TUC relating to unemployment and if he will make a statement.

I have had no formal discussions this month either with the Scottish Section of the CBI or the STUC about unemployment. But I am always willing to consider requests from these bodies for discussions on any topics within my sphere of responsibility.

This is a serious situation. Will the right hon. Gentleman consider with his right hon. Friends the possibility of reconsidering the differentials of the Government's incentives for special development areas? Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that where there is really high unemployment of 14 per cent., 15 per cent., or more, such areas should receive rather more and specially favoured areas rather less, which would keep Government expenditure at the same level?

There has always been a case for having larger differentials. I remember arguing that when the House was considering what is now the Industry Act 1972, when the differentials were introduced. However, there is much to be said—this must be the dominant consideration at present—for maintaining some certainty in regional policy. I do not see that there is any prospect of a change in the differentials in the near future. What we have done recently is to bring more areas—for example, Cumnock and Dundee—into the special development area category.

Mossmoran, Fife (Petrochemical Plant)

5.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland when he intends to publish his decision on the results of the public inquiry into the Shell proposals for a petrochemical complex at Mossmoran in Fife.

Is the Minister aware that that will be welcomed in the Cowdenbeath area? Will he take note that the majority of people there believe that the answer must be favourable? Does he realise that this is in strange contrast to the policy of the Scottish National Party which, at the outset, was against the proposal altogether?

I note what my hon. Friend says. The House will appreciate the difficulties that I have experienced in this matter. The report has now been received by me but I have not yet read it. I shall read it soon, together with the comments of my Department, and make a decision before commenting to the House. I must rest on that.

Is the Minister aware that depending on his decision in relation to Mossmoran is the matter of pipelines through Aberdeenshire, Angus, Perthshire and Fife? Does he realise that there is great concern in those areas, in which there are already three or four pipelines, and will he give an assurance that local views will be fully taken into account?

That is a different question, but I can give that assurance because I am aware that pipeline laying involves a certain amount of disruption, particularly to agricultural land, and we try to minimise it.

Will the Minister take note that, despite the proximity of oil resources to Scotland, there are few plans for petrochemical developments in Scotland, apart from the Mossmoran project and the Cromarty refinery? Will he steer such projects towards Scotland?

I certainly want to see more developments in Scotland and I hope that when we receive the report of the study company which has looked at the gas-gathering pipeline prospects we shall be able to take matters further forward.

Fishing Industry

6.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement on the latest situation in the fishing industry.

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the statements made by my right hon. Friends during the debate in the House on Monday on EEC draft regulations.

Will the Minister accept the best wishes of the Tory Party for the meeting next week in Europe to protect the interests of the British fishing industry? Will he make it clear to our EEC partners that the latest package is completely unfair and that even if it were fair it would be totally unworkable? Will he also make clear that unless we receive a just settlement the British Government will be compelled to take unilateral conservation measures within an exclusively controlled 50-mile limit?

Under normal circumstances I should decline the best wishes of the Tory Party, but in these special circumstances, of the almost complete unanimity that now exists in the House on this point, I accept them. This matter was raised by Opposition Members on Monday and complete assurances were given by the Government on all the points.

Does the Minister realise that he will have the complete backing of all hon. Members from East Anglia in his battle on 5th December?

I know that the hon. Member for Yarmouth (Mr. Fell) takes a keen interest in these affairs, although I did not see him in the House on Monday. I can think of no better combination than the mixture of pleasant persuasion and the ability to "put the boot in" that exists in my right hon. Friends.

Is the Minister aware that, while he has the full support of the Opposition for his fight next week, he should also address his mind to the system of quotas that might be involved in such an agreement? Is he aware that it is desirable that an agreed system of quotas should be achieved, apart from agreement on amounts, and that he would also have our full support on that?

This is a difficult matter. We cannot work outwith a framework without some quota system, but the hon. Gentleman was referring to the way that it should be imposed, whether by licensing or restriction of effort, or a combination of both. We have given an assurance that we are aware of the importance of obtaining agreement on these points.

Scottish Assembly (Taxation Powers)

7.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland from which individuals or organisations he has received representations that the Scottish Assembly should not have powers to levy taxes.

In their comments to my right hon. Friend following the November 1975 White Paper, the Scottish Office of the CBI, the Chambers of Commerce of Dundee and Tayside and Glasgow, the Law Society of Scotland and two members of the public opposed in principle the granting of tax powers to the Scottish Assembly. The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors and the National Farmers' Union of Scotland opposed tax powers supplementary to a block fund intended to meet Scottish needs in full.

Does the Minister agree that this suggests that few people support the Government's position on this matter? Should not the Government look at this again, with a view to giving powers to the Assembly to levy taxes, thus making devolution more real and the Assembly more responsible?

The hon. Gentleman has failed to realise that in the White Paper of November 1975 there were proposals for raising revenue on the margin. However, there is no popular way of raising taxes, and the House should recognise that. The proposals were related to a surcharge on the rates and the Government dropped them because the public were not in favour. One of the problems in giving tax powers to the Assembly is the danger that people see arising for industry, and their fears that there might be higher taxes in Scotland than in England. All these problems must be considered by a responsible Government, such as this one.

Is it not true that had such tax powers existed that could have been worked out practically, conscientious civil servants and able Ministers would have thought of them?

In Cmnd. Paper No. 6890 we defined a portfolio of taxes that we had considered, and my right hon. Friend invited suggestions for taxes. We have said that if the Assembly could come up with a tax formula, and would be prepared to meet the cost of raising revenue, we should be prepared to consider it.

Does the Minister agree that a solution would be the establishment of a Scottish Treasury, that it should be the repository of all taxes raised in Scotland, including revenues from oil, and that it should pay the Treasury in Great George Street those moneys required for non-devolved matters?

I never take the hon. Gentleman's simple solutions seriously. I am even more deterred when I realise that at one time he was economic adviser to the Conservative Party.

The Minister's last remark was completely untrue. Will he continue to listen to the views of industrialists in Scotland—the men who make jobs available, who are opposed to any economic differences, whether of tax or any other kind, between Scotland and England— rather than the views of the hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. Crawford)?

As I have said, the Government are prepared to consider views on the question of revenue-raising powers for the Assembly, and no doubt the debate will go on.

Strathclyde (Structure Plan)

8.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what discussions he has had with Strathclyde Regional Council on the proposals contained in the council's structural plan.

Strathclyde Region has recently circulated a draft structure plan for consideration by district councils and other interests and it will not be submitted to my right hon. Friend until their comments have been received and considered.

Will the hon. Gentleman make clear to the regional council that those of us with constituencies within the region would very much like to lay hands on a copy of the plan in order that we may comment on it as well? Will he also make clear to the council that he will not tolerate a rundown in the new towns programme whilst saving Glasgow?

The hon. Lady asks "May I have a copy of the plan?" In Monday's newspapers people were asked to send in for a copy and the newspapers even gave a telephone number, so it pays to read the newspapers, especially the Scottish newspapers.

It is not a question of saving Glasgow. In 1975 the then Secretary of State put out a consultative document in which he said that new towns should be more representative of the democratic make-up of Scotland as a whole. We are very conscious of the problems of new towns as well as the problems of Glasgow. The hon. Lady talks about land. To try to be helpful to her, I read all the SNP documents. I read its land policy, and the only thing I learned was in paragraph 6, which says "'Land' means lands"—

Is not my hon. Friend being far too kind in his reply? Is it not a terrible thing that a Member of Parliament from the West of Scotland should treat the problems of Glasgow in the way in which they have been treated this afternoon, especially when the SNP so much exploits the figures showing the needs of Glasgow? Should not my hon. Friend reject this with contempt on behalf of the people of Scotland?

Before you excelled me, Mr. Speaker, I was going on to put the sting in the tail, but I always follow the guidance of the Chair. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew-shire, West (Mr. Buchan). The SNP's attitude to the problems of Glasgow is totally reprehensible. It must start thinking seriously and with a more honest outlook about the problems of Strathclyde in general.

Steel Industry

9.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what recent discussions he has had on employment prospects in the steel industry in Scotland.

My right hon. Friend and I are in close touch with developments in the steel industry in Scotland and with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry. In recent weeks I have met Members of Parliament from the areas most directly concerned together with trade unionists from various steelworks in Scotland. I have also met the STUC. Later this afternoon I will be meeting a deputation of workers from the Glengarnock steelworks.

Is the right hon. Gentleman therefore aware of the uncertainties within the steel industry and among steel workers in Scotland? Will he comment on the proposals to mothball one of the units at Hunterston, which could have very adverse effects on investment in steel in Scotland and lead to the situation's becoming critical? It is plain that the right hon. Gentleman's useless answer will not help matters.

I answered the hon. Gentleman's Question. He asks me now whether I am prepared to comment on specific issues concerning the steel industry in Scotland, and the answer must be "No". We in the Government are considering the matter. We know how serious it is in Scotland, the whole of the United Kingdom, and throughout the world. We shall make our decisions known as soon as we can.

When my right hon. Friend meets the workers from Glengarnock steelworks with me this afternoon, will he realise that if the proposals by the British Steel Corporation's Scottish division to shut Glengarnock are carried out the present unemployment rate of 14 per cent. in the Garnock Valley will be increased by one-third of the present labour force, to between 40 per cent. and 50 per cent? When he makes representations to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry about the Scottish point of view on the future of the steel industry, will he make sure that this point is made forcefully? If he does not, the Garnock Valley will become a ghost valley.

I shall be prepared to listen to what my hon. Friend and his colleagues say when they talk to me about the matter this afternoon. We are all concerned to see that we have a good steel presence in Scotland, because it is essential, no matter what current difficulties there are throughout the world, that we continue to have such a presence, not only for the social reasons advanced by my hon. Friend but for very good economic reasons.

Does the Minister agree that whatever the difficulties of the Scottish steel industry they must be seen against the world-wide picture of overcapacity at present? Will he accept from most of the House that nothing must be allowed to interrupt the modernisation of the Scottish steel industry? We hope that he will make that point very clearly to his colleagues in the Government.

I do not want the hon. Gentleman to be confused between modernisation and massacre. There is a great difference. The Government and the British Steel Corporation have been very conscious of the need for modernization, and I think that about 21 per cent. of the BSC's investment programme is being spent in Scotland at present.

Summary Convictions (Appeals)

10.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland whether he will introduce legislation to reform the stated case procedure for appeals from summary convictions to allow findings of fact to be reviewed by the Appeal Court.

Summary appeals procedure is among the matters considered by the Thomson Committee on Criminal Procedure in Scotland. The Committee's third report, on criminal appeals, is likely to be published next month and we shall carry out appropriate consultations before reaching decisions on the recommendations.

Does the Minister accept that both the case of a former Solicitor-General for Scotland and the case of the police officer raised by the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) highlight the absurd restrictions on the opportunity for individuals convicted under summary procedure to appeal against the facts found against them in the original court? Does he accept that Scotland is the only part of the United Kingdom where an individual does not have the right to have the facts found against him in the first hearing reviewed by an appeal court? It will not do if there are only lengthy consultations after the Thomson Committee has recommended. This matter requires urgent action by the Government.

It always amazes me that lawyers see the weaknesses in the law only after they become politicians. In case there should be any misunderstanding about the case of the former Solicitor-General for Scotland, may I say that it has been extensively examined and my right hon. Friend does not consider, and has never considered, that he has any grounds for recommending the exercise of the Royal Prerogative. The House would be well advised to await the publication of the Thomson Report.

Is my hon. Friend yet in a position to make any comment on the practice in Scotland of remission of fines, a practice which has received great Press publicity? If that is not possible, can my hon. Friend tell me the increase in the prison population?

This is a very important matter, which received extensive publicity in the newspapers over the weekend. The position must be explained. The legislation that empowers my right hon. Friend to carry out the remission of fines was introduced by the Conservative Government in 1963. It is not true that the powers have been abused. In 1969, 90 per cent. of those who left borstal with fines outstanding had those fines remitted, whereas in 1971, under the Conservative Administration, that figure had increased to 93 per cent. Therefore, it is a distortion of the facts to have them presented as they were over the weekend.

When considering summary appeals, will the Minister appreciate that under the Summary Jurisdiction Act there is already provision for the investigation of facts by the courts? Will he consider a simple adaptation or strengthening of that system, which perhaps could be included in the Criminal Law Bill that we are expecting?

I am interested in what the hon. and learned Gentleman says. I always listen with great interest to what he says on legal matters. I shall consider what he says. My advice to the House is to await publication of the report.

Scarinish

11.

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that on islands such as Tiree, and on most of the islands around the shores of Britain, the creation of jobs in the steel industry or in manufacturing industry is not only unlikely but unwelcome? The right hon. Gentleman will be aware of my interest in tourism. Does he agree that the creation of jobs in tourism is far more relevant to many of the islands around the shores of Britain? Will he ensure that his Department and all Government agencies do their best to give equal priority to the creation of jobs in service industries?

I agree that the prospect for major steelworks on Tiree is not very high. In fact, the Highlands and Islands Development Board, the Scottish Development Agency and the Scottish Tourist Board do a great deal of work to assist the islands. There is nothing on the statute book that prevents assistance to service industries. I know that the hon. Gentleman is concerned that in the first year or two years of its operations the SDA has elected to spend as much money as it has on the manufacturing side. However, help has been given to the islands. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has spent a great deal of public money on subsidising not only airports but air services, which help the islands considerably.

I urge my right hon. Friend seriously to reconsider his decision. If and when he goes to the island of Tiree, he should take with him the hon. Member for Christchurch and Lymington (Mr. Adley) and leave him there.

If I went to Tiree, which is not the busiest place at this time of year, I think that I should be able to find somebody better to take than the hon. Member for Christchurch and Lymington (Mr. Adley).

The Minister has accepted that the SDA has so far concentrated on manufacturing industry. Does he agree that it should take into account the need to give more assistance to service industries? Some of the worst areas of unemployment in the West of Scotland are areas that will never have the benefit of manufacturing industry. Will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that a switch is made in future?

I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman is aware that the SDA has been especially helpful to small companies. It has made considerable grants, as has the HIDB. That has been most valuable from the islanders' point of view.

Solvent Sniffing

12.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland, in view of the increasing number of young persons indulging in solvent sniffing which endangers life and limb, if he will set up an inquiry into the practice as a health hazard.

No, Sir. There is no doubt that the practice of solvent sniffing is a serious hazard to health. My right hon. Friend is considering whether existing arrangements for education, detection and the provision of any necessary medical and social care might be improved.

Has the attention of my hon. Friend been drawn to the regrettable increase in the number of persons who indulge in this dangerous practice, of which there is ample evidence? Does he not think that it is about time that some sort of campaign was launched involving all the respective services, especially the general practitioners, the clinics and the hospital services, with a view to giving the unfortunates who participate the maximum protection against evils that can seriously endanger their minds, their health and their very lives?

The factual position is that recently notifications have declined. The picture is rather patchy. In some areas there has been an increase, but in most areas there has been a decline. The overall position is that the number of notifications has declined. We must get the right balance between excessive publicity and health education. My view is that we can solve the problem only by a fairly extensive programme of health education. That is the course that we intend to follow.

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that something could be done through the schools, especially in senior classes, where the problem is fairly prevalent? Some attention at that age level might be useful.

I accept that the education system has a part to play. That is one of the areas that we are examining.

Economic Prospects

13.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement on the economic outlook for Scotland.

The policies pursued by the Government have greatly improved the country's financial position and reduced inflation, thereby removing a major obstacle to increased growth and investment. This improvement will benefit the Scottish economy, as will the measures announced by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer on 26th October.

Is the right hon. Gentleman not ashamed that following a party campaign on the basis of "Back to work with Labour" we now have more than 15 unemployed for every vacant job? After a major improvement in Scotland's relative position between 1973 and February 1976, why should the prospects have been declining so sharply over the past 12 months?

The prospects have not been declining so sharply. The present position is very much more favourable than the situation that we inherited in March 1974.

No doubt the right hon. Gentleman has seen the optimistic forecasts for growth in the United Kingdom that were published this morning. Will he give us an indication of his forecasts for the growth rate of Scotland next year?

I should not like to give precise figures, but I make the general point that the growth rate in Scotland, taken over a period of years, has been slightly more favourable than in the United Kingdom as a whole. I should expect that to continue. The important thing is to get the United Kingdom economy basically right, and that is what the Government are working at.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the report issued by the National Institute shows extremely favourable trends but suggests that the most repressive factor is the Government's own monetary policy, especially the increase in the minimum borrowing rate a week ago? Surely it is now necessary to lose that Treasury-dominated policy. Above all, it is surely necessary to restore the public expenditure cuts, which are perhaps the main repressive factor holding back recovery in Scotland.

I do not think that I would accept my hon. Friend's interpretation of the state of the economy at the moment, but it is true that the National Institute's report, which was published today, indicates the favourable changes that have taken place in the economy over the past couple of years.

As for the minimum lending rate, it is slightly higher than it was but at 7 per cent. it compares favourably with the figure that I recollect we had in March 1974, when the Labour Government took over. At that time I recollect that it was 12½ per cent.

As a member of the only party that has consistently opposed public expenditure cuts, may I tell the Secretary of State that both he and the Conservative Opposition should stop being hypocritical? Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that if Scotland had access to the oil revenues, which are now running at £1,000 million a year, we should have no economic problems?

Economically speaking, what the hon. Gentleman has said is a complete absurdity.

Teacher Training Colleges

15.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will now make a statement regarding the future of teacher training colleges in Scotland.

Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that it is now almost 12 months since he presented his consultative document to the House? No doubt he will recall that his proposals were defeated on two occasions and that he was asked to prepare a scheme to retain all 10 colleges. When will the right hon. Gentleman give us a specific date? When will be bring the scheme forward? Surely he can do it before Christmas.

Yes. I intend to fulfil the pledge that I made to make another statement before the end of the year.

Will the Secretary of State ensure that his statement reflects the views of hon. Members who are often ignored in these matters, particularly in regard to the future of Callander Park College?

I do not believe that I ever ignore hon. Members, although I listen to some more than to others. I shall take account of what is said in the House.

In view of the grave concern about the future of Callander Park College, will my right hon. Friend have consultations about the submission from the college proposing a more diversified rôle for the college, which would ensure its continuation as a teacher training college and would also offer other courses which would be of educational benefit to the whole community?

I assure my hon. Friend that the proposals for the college and those that other colleges have put forward have been carefully considered. I am sure that there has been more consultation on these matters than on any other educational matter that I can think of.

Is the Secretary of State aware that over the last four years Dunfermline College has been pressing for diversification but has had no reply to its proposals? Is he further aware that every student, lecturer and employee is wholeheartedly opposed to the college's removal to Dundee, as is the whole community?

I know that the proposals for Dunfermline College were not enthusiastically welcomed in the college. I have been aware of that for some time.

Since the previous proposals were rejected by the House of Commons, can the Secretary of State give an assurance that when he makes a statement it will be a proper statement in the House, subject to questions by hon. Members, and that it will not be in the form of a Written Answer?

These matters are not exclusively for me, but I take note of what the hon. Member has said. No doubt if my statement is not universally welcomed there will be opportunities for debating it.

Land Ownership

16.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland whether he will take steps to set up a register of land ownership in Scotland.

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the recent revelations by John McEwan, which show that huge estates are still owned by people such as the former hon. Member for Edinburgh, North, with more than 250,000 acres, which make even the 7,000 acres owned by the present hon. Member for Fife, East (Sir J. Gilmour) look modest? In view of the need for increased production and efficiency in agriculture and forestry, is it not time that we set up an official land register with a view to taking all land into public ownership for the good of the community?

Mr. McEwan's book contains an estimate of the acreage owned by some large landowners in Scotland. It deals with a small number of landowners and it was compiled from information that was available no later than 1970. I recognise the valuable work that Mr. McEwan has put into his book. The cost of compiling a land register of the kind suggested by my hon. Friend would be prohibitive.

Is it not true that until a change was made in the making up of the valuation role all the farms were listed with their ownerships?

While the Minister is considering Scottish land resources, will he also look into the possibility of instituting a detailed Scottish land use survey? Is he aware of the Civic Trust report on urban waste land and the enormous wasted resources that that report showed? Will he implement its findings?

I cannot say whether we are prepared to introduce a land use survey at this stage. There is a committee of inquiry into the use, acquisition and occupancy of agricultural land in Scotland. The committee of inquiry is likely to take between six and nine months to report. We shall wait to see what it has to say.

Does the Minister agree that the vast majority of land management in Scotland is extremely well done? Is he aware that apart from the SNP no one seems to find it difficult to discover who owns land? Does he agree that a land register of the kind suggested would be a costly waste of public money?

I said that a land ownership register would be costly. Whether it would be a waste of public money is debatable. I can understand the hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger) being incensed at the Scottish National Party. I find it difficult to hear them complaining about foreigners going to Scotland to buy land when one of their most well-known members in Scotland goes abroad to buy islands in the sun.

Uig Pier, Skye

17.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will now authorise the dredging at Uig Pier, Isle of Skye.

My right hon. Friend is still considering the proposal made by the Highland Regional Council that his Department should undertake a scheme of dredging at Uig Pier.

Is the Minister aware that his Department has been considering this matter for a long time and that now there has been a protracted and unreasonable delay in coming to a decision on a small proposal which will cost only £35,000? Will he do what he can to accelerate procedures in his Department?

This matter was first raised in 1974 with the Inverness County Council. The hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Johnston) and I will not accept responsibility for everything that it does. In 1975 the Highland Regional Council withdrew the offer to acquire the pier and only a few months ago we received the current request for dredging. If the matter was left to the hon. Member for Inverness and myself I am sure that we could come to an amicable agreement.

Perth

18.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland when he next intends to visit Perth.

If the Minister does come to Perth, will he carry on for 30 miles up the A9 to Forfar and then condemn the disgraceful state of that road? Will he also condemn the fact that the Government have made available only £10,000 a mile for repair and maintenance? Is this not disgraceful, particularly since this is the main oil route in Scotland?

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has no plans to go to Perth. I have no doubt that he would answer a Question about roads if the hon. Member tabled one on that subject.

Is the Minister aware that members of the SNP neither gave evidence nor made submissions to a recent public inquiry on the status of roads in that area?

That does not surprise me, particularly since they cannot be bothered to table proper Questions.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that about 10 years ago a certain Prime Minister from Bexley, Sidcup made a declaration at Perth? Can he ascertain from the Conservative Front Bench the answer to a question that we have been unable to ascertain during the progress of the Scotland Bill? Can he find out whether the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) and the hon. Member for Cleveland and Whitby (Mr. Brittan) still believe in any kind of Assembly at all, because this is a mystery to us?

If my right hon. Friend goes to Perth, I doubt whether he will go on such a circuitous route.

Later—

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I ask what is the best method of correcting a false statement that was made during Question Time by the hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns (Mr. Buchanan-Smith), who said that no Scottish National Party representative had given evidence to the public roads inquiry held in Dundee? I gave written evidence to the inquiry—

Order. The hon. Member for South Angus (Mr. Welsh) asked for my advice. The best place for him to make his speech is in Scotland. It is out of order to pursue the matter now.

Kessock (Bridge)

19.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he is now in a position to announce a starting and estimated completion date for the bridge at Kessock linking Ross and Cromarty with Inverness.

Construction of the bridge is expected to begin in the spring of 1978 and to be completed in 1981.

Is the Minister aware that that reply is rather more encouraging than those that have been given to me in the past? Is he aware that the bridge crossing the Cromarty Firth is now proceeding, and that all the approach roads for the Kessock bridge are in an advanced state of construction? Does he agree that there is no excuse for his procrastinating further about the construction of the Kessock bridge? May we have an assurance that the sentiments in his main answer will be fulfilled?

The hon. Member's praise does not excite me. I should tell the hon. Member, who sometimes appears on Grampian Television, that the Kessock bridge will be started in the spring. Under the Labour Government 20 miles of the A9 have been completed and 49 miles started.

Fish (Conservation)

20.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what proposals he has for conservation of fish stocks in the waters around Scotland after 1st January 1978; and if he will make a statement.

As was made clear on Monday, during the debate on EEC draft regulations to which the hon. Member made his usual useful contribution, the Government are determined to ensure that adequate steps are taken to protect the stocks of fish in the United Kingdom waters.

To mention two matters in which I know the hon. Member has a particular interest, we hope to obtain the agreement of the Council of Ministers to a continuation of the North Sea herring ban into 1978 and also to an extended closure of the Norway pout box, involving a larger box, in 1978.

May I thank the Minister for his courteous reply? I add my best wishes to the right hon. Gentleman in the negotiations next week. In the absence of an agreement with the EEC countries on 1st January, may I have an assurance that, in the interests of conservation and the future of the fishing industry of all the EEC countries, Britain will not be held back in continuing its own conservation measures into 1978?

Yes, I can readily give that assurance. It has been repeated time and time again that in the event of a breakdown of justifiable conservation measures we shall take effective national measures by conversion to protect our industry.

Glasgow Sheriff Court

29.

asked the Lord Advocate when he next plans to visit the Glasgow Sheriff Court.

I visited Glasgow Sheriff Court on 18th August 1977. My next visit has not yet been arranged.

Does the Lord Advocate not think that it is about time that he called again to see this court? Will he say what steps he has taken to inquire about and take action on the deplorable working conditons in the court since the last time the matter was raised in the House?

I think it is about time that I returned to the court, and I shall go back in the near future. I have taken note of the other points that the hon. Member made. This and other matters are under active consideration by my Department at the moment.

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that much of the pressure could be taken off the Glasgow Sheriff Court if many of the less important cases were passed to the district courts and the courts of the justices?

My hon. Friend has made a useful and sensible suggestion, which, I might add, my right hon. Friend and I have under consideration at the moment.

Treason

30.

asked the Lord Advocate whether there have been any recent prosecutions in Scotland for the crime of treason.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend have a look at the case of the Duke of Montrose, who describes himself as an hereditary Sheriff of Dunbartonshire but whose respect of law and order is such that he deserted his native country and became the Minister of Defence for the illegal racialist regime in Rhodesia? Is it not possible to charge him with treason and, if he fails to show up, to dispossess him of the 9,000 acres of land that he owns in my constituency?

I was not sure at first whether my hon. Friend was going to refer to the Marquis of Montrose, who was executed for treasonable activities in 1650. However, the Duke of Montrose is subject to restriction on entry to the United Kingdom by virtue of the Southern Rhodesia Order 1972, and in his absence from Scotland any question of prosecuting him for offences to which he may be liable does not arise.

Summary Convictions (Appeals)

31.

asked the Lord Advocate whether he will meet the Lord Justice-General to consider the present facilities for the hearing of appeals against summary conviction.

I have no present plans to do so. Procedure for appeals in summary cases was one of the matters recently considered by the Thomson Committee on criminal procedure in Scotland. The committee's third report is likely to be published next month.

Does the Lord Advocate share the complacent disinterest evidenced by the answer of the Under-Secretary earlier this afternoon? If not, what attempt will he make to persuade his right hon. and hon. Friends to make a more constructive and quicker response on the matter?

I refute any suggestion that my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Scottish Office are complacent in any respect in this matter. Let me say, however, in response to points canvassed earlier this afternoon by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind), that there is a serious debate about what improvements, if any, can be made in summary appeals. This is being considered by the Government and, as my right hon. Friend has already said, this will be considered when the Thomson Committee makes its third report.

Glasgow High Court

32.

asked the Lord Advocate when he next intends to visit Glasgow High Court.

Is the Lord Advocate aware of the impact of current legal procedures on rape victims who are called to give evidence against the accused in the High Court, a situation which was epitomised by a recent case in my constituency? Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman indicate whether we can expect future legislation to remove many of these cases from the High Court and allow them to be heard in local sheriff courts?

I do not favour the hon. Lady's latter suggestion. If a matter is sufficiently serious to be tried in the High Court, that is where it should be tried. I am sure that she is not saying that rape is not a serious matter. On her first question, hon. Members on both sides have been good enough to draw to my attention the proposals of the Glasgow Rape Crisis Group, and I share their concern about this matter, as the hon. Lady will know from our discussions. There are certain practical steps which can be taken in this regard.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that the damage done to the Glasgow High Court in the recent fire was not as extensive as was first reported?

That is a matter not for me but for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland. However, I think that I agree with my hon. Friend.

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman remind the members of the SNP, who seem to be so ignorant about most of the characteristics of their country, that rape is one of the crimes that can be tried only in the High Court, along with murder and treason, in which the hon. Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan) has expressed an interest?

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman also ensure that nothing that he or any of his right hon. Friends do will make such a cock-up of the law of rape as has been made in England?

I would not go so far as agreeing with the more extravagant language of the hon. and learned Gentleman. I certainly agree with the statement of the law in the opening part of his question.

Warrant Sales

33.

asked the Lord Advocate when he expects the Scottish Law Commission review of warrant sales to be reported; and if he will make a statement.

The Scottish Law Commission has commissioned a research project into factual and sociological aspects of the working of the present law including warrant sales. It is not possible to say when the Commission will be in a position to report, as it will wish to consider the outcome of the research project.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that it would be interesting to know whether the Commission condemns the inhumane system by which credit establishments can embarrass and humiliate debtors publicly and strip them of almost everything they have in their home in order to obtain what is owed them? Will my right hon. and learned Friend say, from the research into the matter, whether we shall be told why the 1828 Act should be used in Scotland when it is used in no other part of the United Kingdom?

I can give my hon. Friend an assurance on the latter part of the question by indicating that the research to which I have referred will investigate the circumstances of people who have court action taken against them for debt, the factors leading to the existence of the debt, the impact of debt recovery on the debtor and the help or support that various agencies, including social agencies, can offer. The study will be carried out over nearly two years. The consultants carrying out the work are the University of Edinburgh.

In addition, the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys has assumed responsibility for a survey of between 1,000 and 1,500 persons against whom debt proceedings have been taken. This will be followed up by field work in other areas. There has been a great lack of hard fact in this area and I am sure that these researches will be of great assistance in ascertaining the facts before we achieve reform.

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that this is probably one of the most unsavoury aspects of Scottish law and that it is time something was done about it? Will my right hon. and learned Friend therefore make representations to the Scottish Law Commission to see whether it can produce an interim report, so that we might have some early interim legislation on the matter?

I understand my hon. Friend's concern, but with a research project of this sort I do not think that it would be worth while asking for an interim report. However, I accept the sense of urgency that has been indicated today and I undertake at once to take the matter up if it can be shown that systematic abuses of the law are taking place.

Scottish Law Commission

34.

asked the Lord Advocate when he next expects to meet the Scottish Law Commission.

I met the Commission on 4th July 1977. My next meeting has not yet been arranged. There is, of course, a constant exchange of views between the Commission and my departments.

Will the Lord Advocate discuss with the Law Commission and his colleagues the apparent need to tighten up the law on charities in Scotland? Is he aware of the widespread concern that exists about the activities and fund-raising techniques of an organisation described as the David Livingstone Missionary Society, which is apparently immune from scrutiny, since the Charities Act does not apply to Scotland? Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman look into the general question and this particular case as a matter of urgency?

The hon. Member has been good enough to raise this matter with my Department on previous occasions. As Public Prosecutor in Scotland, I watch the activities of various bodies there with some care. On the general issue, however, it is correct that the Charities Act does not apply to Scotland; nor do we have registration of charities in Scotland. The simple answer is that people have not yet found that to be necessary. The Court of Session exercises general jurisdiction over charities and so far no further steps have been felt necessary, although we have the matter under review.

Would it not be a kindness to the Scottish Law Commission at least to recognise the value of its work by having a debate at some time on its reports, particularly a debate in the Scottish Grand Committee? Better still, is it not time that we had another miscellaneous law reform provision Bill, of the kind that we have not had for a number of years?

I have noted the right hon. Gentleman's two points. The first is not a matter for me. The other Officers of the House have to determine such matters. But I take note of both points.

Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman satisfied with the volume and quality of advice that he gets on the question of land tenure reform in Scotland? Is he aware that there is considerable disappointment that no proposals have been brought forward to regularise the position of tenants-at-will in the north-east of Scotland and to give them proper protection against the Tory landlords who are trying to exploit them?

That is a matter that has given the Government some concern. The hon. Gentleman will also be aware that a small improvement in the status of tenants-at-will has been included in the Housing (Financial Provisions) (Scotland) Bill, which is at present before the House.

Is it not highly unsatisfactory that the law on charities should be different north and south of the bor- der, bearing in mind that those who give to charities and benefit from them are covering the whole of the United Kingdom and not only Scotland? Will the Lord Advocate consider introducing legislation to put matters in Scotland on the same basis as in the United Kingdom as a whole?

The short answer to both questions really must be "No", but I am not unsympathetic to the hon. Gentleman's point, although I think he puts it in over-extravagant language. I think, on the one hand, that there may be advantages in retaining the jurisdiction over charities which has been felt to be satisfactory up to the present time. On the other hand, we have to recognise that new activities are taking place, perhaps under the name of charity, which previously did not take place. These have to be watched, with a view possibly to changing our law but not necessarily making it uniform with that in other parts of the United Kingdom. We are endeavouring to ensure that there is adequate protection for the public.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend give some consideration to the stated-case procedure and to the difficulties of the Scottish Police Federation when representing its members who have been convicted of criminal charges? Has this matter been brought before the Scottish Law Commission?

No, Sir. These are not matters which, in the normal course, would be brought before the Scottish Law Commission.

Illegal Immigrants

I beg to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 9, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should be given urgent consideration, namely,

"the Home Secretary's decision of yesterday, first, to extend the terms of the amnesty, introduced by his predecessor in this Government on 11th April 1974, to illegal immigrants who have entered this country before 1st January 1973 by deception of various kinds; secondly, to extend to such former illegal immigrants the right to bring into this country their dependant, now overseas, such as a wife or husband, or children under 18."
The earlier amnesty applied to those who had evaded the immigration control altogether. The present decision should have urgent consideration, because it extends the amnesty to those who gained entry by deceiving the immigration authorities about their identity or entitlement to enter. This deception usually involves the use of a forged or fraudulently obtained passport or other documents, or falsely claiming to have been a dependant of someone lawfully resident in the United Kingdom.

These cases, therefore, involve the breaking of the criminal law and at a time when there is great concern about immigration, it lessens the confidence of people in the Government's will to control immigration, as well as being obviously unfair to those who abide by the rules and do not jump queues.

The additional right to bring in dependants inevitably adds to the problems and responsibilities of local authorities in the crowded immigrant reception areas where there is a shortage of resources—for housing, education and other essential services, as well as serious unemployment. This decision does not help to ease the racial tensions which require urgent solutions to these social problems.

The hon. Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. Eyre) gave me notice this morning before 12 o'clock that he proposed to seek an emergency debate on the question of the Home Secretary's decision to extend the terms of the amnesty, announced by his predecessor on 11th April 1974, to illegal immigrants who have entered this country by deception, and, further, giving rights of entry to this country of dependants of those benefiting from this extended amnesty.

I listened carefully to the hon. Gentleman's arguments. The House knows that I do not decide whether this matter should be debated. I merely decide the narrower question whether it takes precedence today or tomorrow over the business set down. I have considered the matter and cannot accede to the hon. Gentleman's request.

Statutory Instruments, &C

With the leave of the House, I will put together the Questions on all three motions relating to Statutory Instruments.

Ordered,

That the Fishing Vessels (Acquisition and Improvement) (Grants) (Variation) Scheme 1977 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.
That the Sea Fish Industry Act 1970 (Relaxation of Time Limits) Order 1977 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.
That the draft Housing (Homeless Persons) (Appropriate Arrangements) Order 1977 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.—[Mr. Foot.]

Orders Of The Day

Scotland Bill

[4TH ALLOTTED DAY]

Considered in Committee. [ Progress 29th November]

[Sir MYER GALPERN in the Chair]

3.37 p.m.

On a point of order, Sir Myer. I raise the same point of order as I raised yesterday, namely, to request that in the debate today one of the Law Officers of the Crown is present.

Order. Although I was not in the Chair, I was present in the Chamber when the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) put the proposition which he is seeking to raise again today. As he put it yesterday, I fail to see why he should raise the matter again. He received an answer yesterday from the occupant of the Chair.

Further to the point of order, Sir Myer. I think that it is one of the conventions of the House, although doubtless your reply will be the same as was given by the Chair yesterday. It is the accepted way of bringing to the attention of Ministers the strong feelings of some Back Benchers on this question.

I gather that I am not alone in this. There are very grave issues and it would be of great assistance to know what the judges and the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council think of the task that they have been given. [Interruption.] It is all very well for my right hon. Friend the Lord President to complain about this from a sedentary position, but it was he who gave us that marvellous phrase about all the difficulties of operating within the flapdoodle of the law. This is precisely the sort of situation that we are now facing. Able advocate though the Minister of State is, on this particular clause there is a very strong argument for having an authoritative statement from the Attorney-General or the Solicitor-General.

I discovered from the Attorney-General last night that, for reasons which are quite understandable, he is in Belfast. I talked to the Solicitor-General, and at that time it was not clear whether he would be present. He was to have further consultations, and I make no complaint about that. I ask the Government whether on this clause there ought not to be an authoritative statement from one of the Law Officers of the Crown as to what the Judicial Committee thinks about the rôle that it has been given.

It is one thing for my hon. Friend the Minister of State to say at the end of Second Reading, in answer to a question to which I referred yesterday, that the Judicial Committee had been informed. What we are not told is what the Judicial Committee thinks about the role that it has been given.

It would be extremely useful for the House of Commons to know what the judges themselves think. Many of us feel that political decisions ought to be made by the political process and not by the lawyers. No one has been more eloquent on this subject than my right hon. Friend the Lord President in the matter of Sir John Donaldson. He had a lot to say on that, and very eloquently, too. In those circumstances—I put it once again by the established means—there ought to be a statement as to what the judges themselves think about the rôle that they have been given.

The hon. Gentleman indicated that he knew what the answer would be. He is quite correct. It is not a matter for the Chair.

Further to that point of order, Sir Myer. Since the Attorney-General, the Solicitor-General and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Law Officers' Department—for reasons that all of us understand—are not able to be here, but since we have the unusual benefit of the attendance of the Lord Advocate, is it not possible that if the Lord Advocate wished to catch your eye he might be able to deal with the very important issue that has been raised by the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell? If the Lord Advocate were to seek to make a statement to meet the hon. Gentleman's point and if he sought to catch your eye to do so, is it possible that you would call him?

I shall not go into hypothetical questions. All I am concerned with is the fact that no one has tried to make any statement at this juncture. We are not considering statements but rather we are about to consider the amendment on the Order Paper.

Clause 20

Scrutiny Of Assembly Bills

I beg to move Amendment No. 182, in page 8, line 11, leave out from beginning to end of line 25 and insert—

'(1)(a) No Bill passed by the Scottish Assembly shall be enacted until it shall have been considered by both Houses of Parliament; and
(b) if either House is of the opinion that the Bill is not within the legislative competence of the Assembly or is incompatible with the international and community obligations of the United Kingdom, the Bill shall be referred to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council for decision.'.

No. 102, in page 8, line 11, leave out 'The Secretary of State' and insert 'Both Houses of Parliament'.

No. 103, in page 8, line 13, leave out 'he' and insert 'one'.

No. 104, in page 8, line 14, leave out 'he' and insert 'it'.

No. 106, in page 8, line 18, leave out 'he' and insert' one'.

No. 108, in page 8, line 23, leave out 'he' and insert 'it''.

No. 109, in page 8, line 24, leave out 'he' and insert 'it'.

On a point of order, Sir Myer. The Lord Advocate, who has a very heavy responsibility for guiding the Committee, was just about to leave the Chamber. May I say how very pleased indeed the Committee is that he has just come back?

I am particularly pleased, because, although the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) and my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) had difficulty in making their points concerning the Law Officers, I anticipated that there would be no objection if I raised this very point in moving the amendment.

At the outset I must declare an interest. I am a Privy Council appeal agent. It is not generally known what such agents are, but they are those solicitors who are entitled, having signed the roll of Privy Council appeal agents, to instruct counsel in the Judicial Committee. The Judicial Committee is a forum which is not commonly known. I see that the Lord Advocate is now crossing the Floor to join me. I hope that he will listen to this. The Judicial Committee is a forum the function of which is not generally known. The amendments deal with the Judicial Committee and a reference to the Judicial Committee.

There is one little word in the clause which I fear I have been tempted to repeat in the amendment and which shows a misunderstanding of the function of the Judicial Committee. That word is "decision". The Judicial Committee does not come to a decision or a judgment. It traditionally advises Her Majesty.

There is only one instance that I am aware of where the Judicial Committee came to a judgment. That was in the case of Malaysia. But normally the Judicial Committee is a body which is not allowed to come to a judgment. It is a committee of the British Government which advises Her Majesty. This is not just a technical point. It goes right to the basis of all references to the Judicial Committee. I wanted to make that clear at the commencement.

My right hon. Friend may develop this theme. If not, I shall endeavour to catch the eye of the Chair to do so. But it is important for the Committee to know that this clause touches on the Royal Prerogative, if not the Monarchy. That is a point of the highest importance which must be carefully scrutinised by the Committee.

3.45 p.m.

I am obliged to my hon. Friend. The point I was making is that the Judicial Committee is not strictly a court but an advisory committee to Her Majesty. I do not know why under Clause 20 it was chosen to refer matters to the Judicial Committee. After all, it has almost exactly the same composition as the House of Lords. On frequent occasions I have been able to get a case set down for the Judicial Committee because the personnel of the Judicial Committee sits in the House of Lords. Why cannot we use the ordinary judiciary—the House of Lords—as the highest court rather than going to the Judicial Committee?

Indeed, it is rather extraordinary—again, this is by direct reference to the amendment—that when there is to be a case of the Scottish Assembly breaking national rules, the case does not go to the Judicial Committee. If the Scottish Assembly endeavours to pass a Bill which is contrary to Community regulations or to international obligations of the United Kingdom, the Secretary of State merely puts a dead stop to it and does not refer it to the Judicial Committee. That is strange, because that is the kind of case with which the Judicial Committee is always dealing. It is always dealing with international affairs—international as between Commonweath countries and, indeed, the forms of independent Commonwealth countries that we now have.

The very basis of Clause 20 is in question. Amendment No. 182 endeavours to simplify the rather unusual procedure that is set out in the clause itself. We have now reached the stage where the Committee has approved that the Assembly may legislate on devolved matters, which is duly set out in Schedule 10, and for Scotland only. But if it legislates on a devolved matter and for Scotland only, it can legislate for the whole of the United Kingdom on anything which is necessary, expedient, incidental, or consequential as a result. That is what the Committee accepted last night, despite the amendment that I moved.

By Clause 20 the Secretary of State is appointed as referee to see that the Scottish Assembly keeps to the rules of legislative competence. If he is of opinion —I stress that—that the Scottish Assembly can be booked for foul play, or for breaking the rules of legislation competence, he blows his whistle and the Judicial Committee marches on to the field. I put it in that picturesque way but that is the position.

Even if the complaint against the Scottish Assembly is that it has broken the rules of the European Community or any other treaty of the United King- dom, all the Secretary of State is required to do under the formula in Clause 20 is to say that he will not advise Her Majesty to give her Royal Assent to the Bill in question. In fact, he orders everyone off the field and that is the end of it. It does not go to any sort of judicial tribunal at all.

It seems to me that Clause 20 is the most amateurish, most inadequate and most infantile effort to erect a structure of procedure for the resolution of conflict not between two legislatures—Parliament and the Scottish Assembly—but between the United Kingdom Government in the form of the Secretary of State and the Scottish legislature, the Scottish Assembly.

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman a question that he may or may not be in a position to answer in view of his connections with the Judicial Committee? When the Minister said a fortnight ago that the Judicial Committee had been informed about these things, was it asked at the same time for its opinion of the rôle that it had been given? Did the lawyers with whom the right hon. Gentleman is in association on the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council give any kind of opinion on the task that they are being asked to perform?

I do not know how one could formally inform the Judicial Committee or ask for its opinion without adopting the normal procedure of a petition to the Judicial Committee. That is how one originates procedure before the Committee. It is not a body to which one can go at any time and ask for its opinion. It is a tribunal, a forum.

The Minister of State said:

"We have ensured that the Judicial Committee and the courts' administrations generally have been informed about the proposals which concern them."—[Official Report, 14th November 1977; Vol. 939, c. 197.]

I assume that that must mean that the Registrar of the Judicial Committee, who is the administrator of that body, and each individual judge who is entitled to sit on the Committee was informed. I do not know whether each has given his opinion informally. I know nothing of a formal petition to the Judicial Committee for its opinion. There are matters in which the Judicial Committee can be required to give an opinion ex parte without any particular issue before it, but it is by formal petition that the case will be argued before the Judicial Committee.

The architects of Clause 20 realised that every federal constitution has some sort of procedure and some structure for decision and settling disputes as to the jurisdiction of the two legislatures concerned. With a sort of federal scaffolding, the architects of the clause endeavoured to erect a devolution system, a devolution constitution, and it has come out as a very rickety sort of structure.

As far as I recollect it—the right hon. Gentleman's recollection will no doubt be better than mine—the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council has been asked to give a view in the past and has given a view on the relationships or disputes between the Federal Government of Canada and the Provincial Governments of Canada. Is that not a precise parallel of what the right hon. Gentleman suggests here?

I am not saying that it cannot be done. I am saying that it is a structure that is inappropriate to this Bill. It is a federal form of structure that has been set up here, but the Bill is not setting up a federation. It is an endeavour to adapt a federal structure, which has been done so many times throughout the Bill with so much failure.

My hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Fowler) has recalled the Canadian experience. What happened there was that the Judicial Committee was, in effect, responsible for taking decisions on whether something could be done at provincial level or federal level in Ottawa. The political disagreements that ensued from its pursuing that role were so intense that the Canadians decided to abolish appeals to the Privy Council because it could not keep itself out of politics. For that reason, appeals to the Privy Council were terminated.

I agree about the failure of that type of reference to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. Pre- cedent does not augur well for the system that Clause 20 endeavours to adopt.

The important point that I wish to make is that it is not a procedure for settling issues between Parliament and the Assembly. As I see it, both Houses of this Parliament can pass resolutions unanimously saying that in their opinion a particular Bill of the Scottish Assembly is not within the Assembly's legislative competence.

But nothing whatever need happen as a result of those resolutions. This House and another place will not be asked for an opinion. The Secretary of State is the one to give his opinion. Any views expressed by this House or the other place can be ignored by the Scottish Assembly.

To whom is the Secretary of State accountable and responsible in forming this opinion? We have raised this point before. I may have been given an answer, but I have never been able to understand exactly what the answer was. To whom is the Secretary of State responsible for forming an opinion that the Scottish Assembly is acting outside its legislative competence? If he is accountable only to the Assembly, the whole clause is pointless. The clause merely says that, if the advice of the Scottish Assembly or the Scottish Executive holding a majority in the Assembly is that a Bill is within the legislative competence of the Scottish Assembly, the Secretary of State will have to form an opinion that it is, and it will never be referred to the Judicial Committee. On the other hand, the Secretary of State is directly responsible to this Parliament and I presume that he would have to respond to motions in this House and another place.

The purpose of the amendments is to ensure that Parliament will have the opportunity of initiating any claim that the Scottish Assembly is acting outside its legislative competence. The amendments seek to place Parliament in the position in which Clause 20 places the Secretary of State. Amendment No. 102 and others have been drafted in desperation, accepting the formula, but merely putting the word "Parliament" in the place of "Secretary of State" in the hope that the Minister will at least accent this, after all his doggedness, determination and obstinacy on every amendment that we have put forward.

I do not like Amendment No. 102 and the others. I much prefer Amendment No. 182, which does almost the same thing, but refers the international breaches by the Scottish Assembly to the Judicial Committee in exactly the way that other breaches are to be referred.

Will it be practicable for Parliament to consider every Scottish Bill? The clause says that the Secretary of State should consider every Bill. The amendment says that Parliament should consider every Bill. At present, both Houses consider all subordinate legislation, and we do not find any great difficulty in doing so. The House does so by such legislation being laid before it by Statutory Instrument and by that subordinate legislation being scrutinised in Committee and, if necessary, reported to the House. It is also done by such legislation being scrutinised by right hon. and hon. Members and by being brought before the House selectively either on a Prayer or an affirmative resolution.

There is no great difficulty in this. It is not as if the House would have to debate every Bill of the Scottish Assembly. It would merely look at it in the same way that it looks at ministerial legislation at present, or EEC regulations and directives. We do not find great difficulty in selecting those matters that have dynamite in them and in passing those that seem perfectly acceptable and not dangerous. The clause itself states:
"The Secretary of State shall consider every Bill passed by the Assembly".
In practice the Secretary of State personally will not do it at all. His civil servants will examine each Bill and advise him. Why should not right hon. and hon. Members of this House look at Bills in exactly the same way? Why should it be reserved to civil servants to advise the Secretary of State rather than right hon. and hon. Members?

4.0 p.m.

Clause 20 means that this legislation will be considered by the Secretary of State's advisers. He will be advised about which piece of legislation is within or without the legislative competence of the Scottish Assembly. I am not sure who those advisers may be, whether they will be from the United Kingdom Civil Service or the Scottish Civil Service. What I am quite sure of is that Clause 20 abandons the supremacy of Parliament and hands that supremacy over to the Civil Service.

Even the Scottish National Party should accept this amendment and should be pleased to do so. If the amendment is accepted, those members of that party who are Members of this House will have a chance to argue their points in this House. It is the only chance they will get. Otherwise, the Secretary of State makes the decision and there will be no chance for SNP Members of Parliament to argue the point.

There can be no doubt that as Clause 20 stands Parliament is deprived of its legislative supremacy. The amendments, particularly No. 182, seek to restore that in what is a perfectly practical way.

In my view this is a matter of the greatest importance. I start with the proposition that political decisions ought to be made by the political process and not handed to lawyers. This is a proposition that was highly acceptable to my right hon. Friend the Lord President because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heller) well remembers, a great deal was said by the Labour Party when we were in opposition about a High Court judge being involved in politics. It is no good the Minister of State or anyone else saying that it is simply a decision on vires—some neutral decision that lawyers can legitimately make.

The truth of the matter is that whenever the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council is brought in to decide as between the Assembly and Parliament in Westminster, it will concern, by definition, a subject of controversy. If that were not so, there would be no row and no need to bring in the Committee in the first place. We cannot say to ourselves "Oh well, it is just the lawyers deciding a legal problem in a vacuum." What they are being asked to do is to decide on a highly-charged political matter.

It might be of help to this Committee if I explained precisely the composition of the Judicial Committee. There is a great deal of vagueness about this, and I must say that before this subject arose my ignorance was just as great as that of any other colleague. I have found out from the Library that the Judicial Committee consists of the Lord Chancellor, the Lord President, ex-Lord Presidents, Lords of Appeal in Ordinary—that is, judges in the House of Lords—the Lord Justices of Appeal—that is, judges of the Court of Appeal—and
"such other members of the Privy Council as shall from time to time hold or have held 'high judicial office'"
within the meaning of the Appellate Jurisdiction Acts 1876 and 1877, I exclude the Commonwealth representatives.

I do not know why the hon. Member should exclude the Commonwealth representatives. They are important. We have an ex-Attorney-General of Ceylon, a Lord Chief Justice of Australia, and so on. I am not sure why they should decide issues between Scotland and England.

I was simply trying to save time. I should have included Commonwealth representatives. I have a list here of the members of the Judicial Committee. They include the Lord Chancellor, Lord Elwyn-Jones; the Lord President of the Council, Thomas Frederick, Lord Peart; Reginald Edward, Viscount Dilhorne; John Clarke, Lord MacDermott; Alfred Thompson, Lord Denning; John William, Lord Morris; Francis Lord Charlton; Christopher William Graham, Lord Guest; Patrick Arthur, Lord Devlin; Edward Holroyd, Lord Pearce; Gerald Austin, Lord Gardiner; Richard Orme, Lord Wilberforce; Colin Hargreaves, Lord Pearson; Herbert William, Lord Aylestone William John Kenneth, Lord Diplock; Quinton McGarel, Lord Hailsham of St. Marylebone; John Lord Wheatley; Jocelyn Edward Salis, Lord Simon of Glaisdale; Arthur Geoffrey Neale, Lord Cross of Chelsea; Lord Widgery; Lord Kilbrandon.

Let us consider Lord Kilbrandon. Here is a man who is supposed to be in the position of a neutral judge. He is no less prejudiced on these matters than I am.

The hon. Gentleman is surely familiar with the practice that prevails whereby judges do not sit on matters with which they have been previously concerned, whether in a political capacity, whether through a court of inquiry or anything of that kind. It is unthinkable to me that Lord Kilbrandon would be called upon to sit on the Judicial Committee in the circumstances envisaged in the Bill.

It may be unthinkable but Lord Kilbrandon is entitled to sit on the Judicial Committee. In the issue of the Scotsman of 28th November, Lord Kilbrandon said some explosive things. He said:

"Two hundred and seventy years ago these were vital questions. It is not so easy to perceive an overriding necessity for union in the 1970s."
The newspaper report went on:
"Lord Kilbrandon said the Assembly would have power to lay down their own procedure and he expressed the hope that they would avoid entangling themselves in some of the absurdities discreditable to a legislature pretending to be in business."
That is a straight report of Lord Kilbrandon's speech. Now that he has retired he is entitled to express such a point of view. I am sure that he must have held such prejudices while he was a judge and I am sure that many judges hold political views. I ask once again that political decisions should be made not through the legal process but through the political process.

I had better continue with the list of members of the Judicial Committee. Other members include Lord Salmon; Lord Edmund-Davies; Lord Home of the Hirsel; Lord Fraser; Lord Russell; Lord Carr; Lord Keith of Kinkel; Lord Glenamara, who has certainly played a part in this discussion.

Would the hon. Gentleman not do better if he were to give us a reading from his book?

Lord Glenamara was the right hon. Edward Short. I could go on with the list. It is an exceedingly unsatisfactory situation.

Although the hon. Gentleman is dealing with a point of immense legal and constitutional importance, so as not to spread dismay and consternation throughout the land may I ask him to make it plain that the customs of the Judicial Committee are such that neither the Chairman of Cable and Wireless Ltd. nor the Lord President of the Council will ever be called upon to act in a judicial capacity?

I hope that the Minister of State will make this clear. So far it has not been made clear.

I do not want to take too much time, because of the Guillotine. But I want to put a direct question to my hon. Friend. What did he mean when he said that the Government had ensured that the Judicial Committee and the courts' administrations generally had been informed about the proposal which concerned them? I say bluntly that there are certain people in the list that I have just read who have not been so informed.

Will the hon. Gentleman agree that his comments about the rôle of the Judicial Committee are a very good indication of the way in which the British constitution acts mostly by custom and precedent and that it is the fact that, although the custom and precedent is as laid down by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton), no one looking at our constitution who did not know the precedents and the customs would understand the way in which the Judicial Committee was likely to act? It is when we start to try to incorporate continental systems of a written constitution that, understandably, we get into these difficulties.

We are in very genuine difficulty about this. It is quite clear that there would be endless argument about those people from whom the members of the Judicial Committee were chosen. I look forward to hearing how they will be chosen. Some of those people might themselves say that they were unwilling to serve on any kind of Judicial Committee. That would be to their credit. They might say, very reasonably, "We have very strong views of a political nature. How can we be asked to serve on a Judicial Committee?" That is one problem.

The second problem is to know who will accept a decision, in a highly charged political situation, handed down from on high by a Judicial Committee when that decision goes against them?

Let us suppose that there was a Judicial Committee decision about a kind of Tameside situation. That is what the argument would be about. It would be about that, about money or about some other difficult issue. It would be only human nature for the people who were defeated to say "Why should we take it from the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council?"

I say simply that these matters have to be settled by the political process in a political way and not handed over to lawyers. Lawyers cannot do the so-called dirty work for the politicians. Apart from anything else, it is the surest way of bringing the judges and the High Court into disrepute by embroiling them in politics, often against their will.

But I want to know what is meant by my hon. Friend's statement about ensuring that the Judicial Committee was informed. I should also like to be clear about the view of the lawyers on this matter. With due respect to the Minister of State, it is not his job as the advocate of the Bill to do this task—all other tasks, possibly, but not this one. We should have an authoritative statement from the Law Officers, speaking as law officers after consultation with the Lord Chancellor.

I have to report to the Committee that I have been singularly unable to persuade the Law Officers to make any such statement. This should be a statement coming with the authority of the Lord Chancellor of what the judges think about the rôle that they have been given. My information is that the judges are very unhappy about many aspects of this.

4.15 p.m.

In considering this group of amendments —and it will be the same in considering the next group—the Committee is beginning to taste some of the delights of a written constitution. The reality behind the debate appeared, albeit in different ways, from both the speech of the right hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) and that of the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell).

In two respects in recent years, we have started to provide ourselves with elements of a written constitution. The first such occasion was by becoming members of the European Economic Community. The Treaty of Rome and the Treaty of Accession are the first written constitution which this country has had. That decision, too, has produced its effects in the wording of this clause and in the thought processes of the Government, which one can trace as one studies its provisions.

But in the case of this Bill, what we are attempting is to give a partial written constitution to a part of the Kingdom. It is the old phenomenon, which we have met so often in these debates, of the consequences of semi-federalism.

There is one certain and indispensable concomitant of a written constitution. That is a supreme court—an authority which can authoritatively and beyond dispute adjudicate upon what is, and what is not, constitutional and which, by the very fact of accepting that constitution, is accepted as entitled to do this.

Following on from the speech of the hon. Member for West Lothian, it is implicit in having a written constitution—it was implicit in signing the Treaty of Accession in 1972—that we accept that highly political and ultimately overriding decisions will sometimes be taken not by bodies responsible to the people but by judges. The people of a country which lives under a written constitution lives in that sense under the rule of judges. I am emboldened to describe them—I do not know whether the word has been invented before—as the inhabitants of a critocracy.

The difficulty of our relations with the European Community is not one of logic. The question whether our legislation in this House is repugnant to the law of the Community is decided by the Supreme Court of the Community—though that is not actually its name. The problem there is whether or not we like it, whether we are content that it should be so; but at any rate the logic is intact.

The trouble with this clause, with which the amendments vainly try to cope, is that we have a semi-federal and semi-written constitution for part of the Kingdom, but have not got the supreme court. What we are looking for in the clause and in the attempts to amend it is an acceptable constitutional court of a federal United Kingdom which does not exist but which is implicit in what we are trying to do in endowing Scotland, and Scotland alone, with a legislature.

Two questions have to be met at the outset when we address ourselves as the Government have done—we can trace their struggles in the text of the clause—to the problem. The first is at what point the deus ex machina—the judgment—shall be brought in. Is it to be brought in to stop the subordinate legislature while it is still doing something which someone else apprehends is ultra vires, do we wait until they have completed all the processes, or, finally, is it only when law has apparently been made by the subordinate assembly that what they have done is to be challenged and referred to adjudication?

Different answers have been given at different times by this House. In the case of the 1920 Government of Ireland Act, power was taken to intervene at an early stage. The governing words are:
"If it appears to the Lord Lieutenant…in the public interest that steps shall be taken for the speedy determination of the question whether any Act…or any Bill introduced in either of those Parliaments"—
the Northern Ireland Parliament or the Southern Ireland Parliament—goes beyond its powers, then a certain reference shall be made.

I will come to the reference in a moment. For the present I am concerned with the fact that in 1920, in setting up subordinate legislatures in the island of Ireland, the view was taken that one could not let those subordinate legislatures go on through all the processes—at least one should have the power to prevent them from doing so—and then, when they had completely agreed to all stages of the legislation, come along and say "But that is ultra vires".

In the case of the misbegotten Northern Ireland constitution of 1973—that is a very polite term compared with others which are commonly applied to it in Northern Ireland—there was provision under Section 5 to prevent a Measure being brought in at all if it appeared to the Secretary of State—the Clerk of that Assembly was to examine Measures with this in view—that it was, or might be, ultra vires. So that was a still earlier stage.

In this clause, however, the Government propose—for the effective words in lines 11 and 12 are "every Bill passed"—that the adjudication shall only be started when the Bill has gone through all stages in the Scottish Assembly, thus, one would imagine, maximising the implicit friction and clash of political intention by allowing the Scottish Assembly to give full assent to the proposals, before the Secretary of State steps in and says "But I am not going to take it to the Queen; so there!".

The last possible stage, which we have not ousted by this Bill—indeed, it was not ousted by the 1920 Government of Ireland Act—was that one waits until the Act is in fact apparent law before it can be submitted to whatever is the appropriate jurisdiction. That, of course, is the procedure inside the EEC: we do not have its court listening in on our proceedings, or intervening between this House and the submission of the petitions to this House to Her Majesty, but when we have performed a legislative Act, anyone can challenge its validity before the court of the EEC.

Therefore, I say first, that there is a very real difficulty, which I do not believe this clause has satisfactorily solved, concerning the stage in the subordinate legislative process at which the question of vires is to be tested. More serious, however, is the question, by whom it is to be done—to whom the reference is to be made. Here there are three or four possibilities in the arena. The first—this is what I gather would appeal, judging from his speech, to the hon. Member for West Lothian—is that the decision should be recognised clearly as political, as an act of the superior Government based on the superior Parliament, and that the Secretary of State himself should pronounce upon the vires of a Bill when it becomes an Act.

That, one might say, is following the precedent, though not the timing, of the Northern Ireland Act 1973, in which it was the Secretary of State who said to the Northern Ireland Assembly "Yes, you can carry on with that legislation" or, "No, you cannot carry on with that legislation", and where his certificate was required in any case where he thought that something was beyond the legislative competence of the Assembly before it could complete the legislative process. That is one possibility, that the Secretary of State could do it. That was the Government's first thought. That was the proposition which the Govern- ment first presented to the House a year or two ago in the form of the White Paper.

The second possibility is that we should find a judicial authority to do the job. I must say that it is repugnant to me, despite my following the arguments of the hon. Member for West Lothian, that the interpretation of the effect of a statute should be authoritatively taken other than by a judicial process. Therefore, I can understand the reasons which led the Government to abandon their original idea of an executive ruling and to substitute a judicial ruling. But then, when we turn round and try to do that, we discover great problems in finding an appropriate judicial body.

I have to say to the Secretary of State that there are severe problems attaching to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council for this purpose. I know, and I have indicated already, that there is a precedent for this—but I believe it is a precedent which should give us pause—in the Act of 1920, an Act, as it was ironically called,
"for the better government of Ireland",
where it was provided that reference could be made, upon the motion of the Lord Lieutenant or the Secretary of State, to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.

I ask the Committee for a moment to recall the background of the 1920 Act, the Irish Home Rule Act as split into two following the events which occurred between 1914 and 1920. An essential element of that background was the expectation—I might almost say "the intention", and that would be not imputing anything unworthy to any party—that the development of that constitution should follow the lines of the development of the Canadian constitution. The analogy of Dominion status and of the Canadian evolution was thoroughly present to the minds of those who, from 1916 onwards, were contemplating how the Government of Ireland Act 1914 would require to be amended if it was to survive at all and form the basis of future political development.

It was, therefore, entirely natural that, looking for a judicial authority to perform this function, they should select that judicial authority which characteristically is invoked by the Crown, not to settle the interpretation of the law of this country, not to settle the meaning of the statutes which this House of Commons passes, but to settle matters arising under the Crown but outside this realm and outside the area represented by this House of Commons. That is how the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands come in and how all the Indian and colonial appellate jurisdiction which was built up by the Privy Council over a century arose. So it was entirely natural in that context that Dominion status in embryo should be provided with a Dominion-type judicature to settle questions of ultra vires.

But, as I say, the difficulty with which we are here confronted is that we are invoking that judicial authority to give an opinion on the meaning of a statute which this House of Commons is engaged in framing for the management of an integral part, which we assert will remain no less integral, of this United Kingdom under this Parliament.

Therefore, we are led to ask whether there is any alternative. The alternative, of course, would be to use the same instance as is called into play when any other question arises whether the action of a Minister is intra vires or in the interpretation of an Act of this House of Commons. Of course, since we have no written constitution and since Parliament is sovereign, there can be no question of the vires of an Act, nor do we have an authority to rule upon the vires of our Acts except in the context of the federation to which we belong that is known as the European Economic Community. Domestically we do not have that. Nevertheless, the courts are there, the ordinary courts—with recourse right up to the House of Lords—for the interpretation of the law made by this House of Commons when doubt is cast upon it or when dispute arises.

4.30 p.m.

So why was not this question of vires also left to due process of law in the courts? I suspect that there are two reasons. I suspect that the first reason is that in that event one would have to invoke the ultra vires procedure at the very last stage, not at the sort of penultimate stage when Mr. Secretary of State is about to go to the Queen with a Bill but after the last stage, when it is an Act, so that one would be confronted with the possibility of an Act of the Scottish Parliament being struck down by the courts of this country and potentially, in the last resort, by the House of Lords.

There may be severe administrative inconvenience in that.

I see that the Lord Advocate does not think that there is. I am greatly encouraged because in that case I am fortified in my instinct that if we possibly could, we should use the same judicial means for settling the meaning and application of this statute as of any other statute. But there was probably also, in the minds of the Government—and I should be interested if the Minister of State could comment on this—a doubt whether it is quite consistent with what we are doing, or purporting to do, in setting up a legislature for Scotland, that the courts of the United Kingdom and ultimately the House of Lords should decide what is to be the limit upon the powers of the Parliament of Scotland, and should be given authority to strike down Acts of the Parliament of Scotland if they find them ultra vires.

Imagine what would be said by SNP Members in Scotland if this happened. Would not they have a heyday against the Lords?

I suspect that the "i" that the hon. Member has dotted was very much in view by the Government when they went for preference for what I shall describe for brevity as colonial judicature.

Thus what this debate is doing is to present to us once again the consequences of attempting to go half federal, of attempting to give a part, and a part only, of this realm a written constitution and partial self-government while still pretending that it remains an integral part of the Kingdom and subject to the authority of the House of Commons, in every respect as the other parts of the Kingdom. Whichever way we test it—and this is the significance—we have not yet found a clause which, when examined, did not yield the same result: one cannot do it. We are attempting to do something inherently contradictory. That is why both the clause and the amendments —it is no criticism, for they make the point—fail, because we are bound to fail in our attempt.

I share the view of the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) that much of the genuine as opposed to the political difficulty of this Bill and of our experience in this House from time to time has been that we go half way along the road and then stop without reaching our destination. The right hon. Gentleman said that the proposal was semi-federal. I would prefer to call it a semi-devolutionary proposal. There is a sharp distinction between federalism and the principle of devolution. It covers only one part in terms of the legislative devolution of the United Kingdom.

I have strongly argued—initially in private because it would have been difficult for me to argue this case publicly at one stage—that we would have been wiser to delay a little and to work out a fully fledged scheme for the whole of the United Kingdom if we wished to travel on that road at all. We are bound to experience difficulties if we proceed on this route.

On the other hand, that is no argument for not proceeding on that route, for a simple reason. If we were to try to work out such a scheme, such are the procedures of this House—and I have some sympathy with the words of Lord Kilbrandon on this subject—that we should never legislate at all. I hope that this Bill will be the beginning of our travelling further along that same road until we have a fully fledged devolutionary system.

The right hon. Gentleman was right to say that if we legislate in respect of Scotland alone and turn to the question of the determination of vires we shall face a hideous dilemma. We can either use the existing judicial mechanism in determining vires, or we can establish a totally new judicial mechanism in the shape of a supreme court, which does not exist, for this one purpose alone in respect of one part of the United Kingdom. We can also say "Let us dispense with judicial mechanisms totally and decide all such questions as if they were straightforward political questions."

That is the view taken by the right hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) who moved Amendment No. 182. He wishes this House and another place to take decisions on matters of vires.

The right hon. Gentleman may be surprised to know that I have more sympathy with him in that idea than he might suspect, because initially that was my view. He will remember that at one stage it was the Government's view. I was very attracted at that stage by the notion that we should not follow either of the other two courses—in other words that we should neither invent new judicial mechanisms nor, alternatively, impose either what the right hon. Member for Down, South called with some justification the colonial judicial process or the normal judicial process in regard to Acts of the Scottish Assembly in determining their vires.

On the other hand, what turned me against that view and against the proposal put by the right hon. Member for Crosby was the realisation—a realisation that every politician should find it easy to comprehend—that from time to time this House does not always vote in a judicial manner but that sometimes its behaviour is occasioned by matters of political advantage. That may be to the political advantage either of a group or party in this House, or particular individuals in this House.

I put to the right hon. Member for Crosby that it is not inconceivable that in a situation where the Conservative Party had a single-figure majority in this House and yet was not in a majority in the Scottish Assembly a Conservative Secretary of State would move to reject an Assembly measure on the ground that it was outside the legal competence of the Assembly and that he would fail to get that motion through this House because it might be to the advantage of the Labour Party, the SNP or the Liberal Party to ensure that the motion was rejected. Indeed, there would be certain Scottish Members in the Conservative Party who as individuals would find their own political position in jeopardy if they were to support that Conservative Government on such a proposal. I think that that would bring the whole process of this House into disrepute and would turn a judicial matter into a head-on political confrontation between the Scottish Assembly and this House.

The right hon. Member for Crosby said that it might be to the advantage of the SNP to vote for his amendment, and I think he is right. The policy of the SNP Members is to produce confrontation of that kind because, so far as they can see, only they can benefit from such confrontation. I hope that SNP Members will not follow his advice, but I understand the point he was making.