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Government Of Scotland (Scottish Convention)

Volume 980: debated on Tuesday 4 March 1980

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4.6 pm

On this auspicious day, when the Pax Britannica has brought successful free elections to Zimbabwe, I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to establish an elected Convention in Scotland; to enable the Convention to draw up proposals for the government of Scotland by an elected Assembly; and to make provision for a referendum and implementation of the proposals in the event of an affirmative vote.
Last year a referendum took place in which 1,230,937 Scots voted in favour of a Scottish Assembly. It was a narrow but clear majority for those in favour of the principle of an elected legislature and executive Government in Scotland, with the Executive responsible to the legislature.

Since then the subject has been dormant, but in recent weeks and months public attention has been drawn once again to the issue. That is doubtless partly due to the inadequate agenda produced by the Government to deal with the issues raised last year. A recent BBC television opinion poll showed that there is now a higher level of support for the legislative Assembly and the Executive than last year.

I do not pretend that the package, as framed, was without warts or blemish. My right hon. Friend the Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart), myself and the Scottish National Party had many reservations about the powers contained in the constitutional package. We felt then, and feel now, that it was too weak and that it would have no influence over universities, industry or commerce. We feel that it would have no sources of finance and, above all, no access to Scottish oil revenues. Indeed, had the powers provided in the Act equalled the maximalist proposals in the Northern Ireland White Paper published a few months ago, I believe that they would have merited much greater support than the package put forward by the previous Government in the referendum. The SNP has always sought full self-government for Scotland, and is disappointed by the powers that would have been given to the Assembly.

We accept, as must the unionists and others with different views, that the referendum vote cannot be ignored and treated as if it did not exist. Had a "No" vote been recorded by a narrow majority, the House would have been more ready to recognise that something remained to be done. As the majority voted "Yes", it has been almost entirely discounted.

The Scottish people voted "Yes" for the principle of control by an elected legislature and Executive, even if the powers and limits were open to debate. We must accept that there was a majority vote cast by a nation whose prime constitutional base was always the sovereignty of the people rather than that of the Crown or Parliament. Indeed, Scottish constitutional law takes a different stand on this matter from that of the kingdom of England. That sovereignty is undiminished by the 40 per cent. rule, an innovation that was completely unknown in the Western democratic world. That was imposed by the House—as it was entitled to be—against the will of the majority of Scottish Members of Parliament. That sovereignty is unaffected by the repeal of the Scotland Act last summer—against the wishes of the majority of Scottish Members of Parliament.

That fact was recognised by Lord Home of the Hirsel, who said on 24 February 1979, in an article in the Scottish Daily Express, that regardless of the outcome of the referendum, particularly if it were "No", the issue should remain top of the political agenda. That was echoed by the Prime Minister on 28 February 1979, when she said that a "No" vote would not mean that the question would be buried.

In view of the events of recent months, especially the repeal of the Scotland Act, the previous devolution package is dead. It was repealed. However, the " Yes " vote—the majority vote in the referendum —and the assurances given by the Prime Minister and Lord Home of the Hirsel still remain and should be attended to.

It was scandalous that the Government gave in to IRA pressure by producing a White Paper on Northern Ireland that proposed a substantial legislative and Executive power but ignored the clear democratic mandate that the Scots cast In free and fair elections and the referendum. In view of today's events—the results of the Zimbabwe election have come through—we should underline the importance of the free vote in the referendum.

In spite of the dormant period, this issue has not gone away. Politics is a dynamic business. The short, temporary breathing space will not last long.

How do we tackle the problem? We can await the return of the Scottish National Party in strength. A challenge was laid down by the House. I willingly take it up. I assure the House that events will flow our way. The House has the option, on the anniversary of the referendum, to consider this Bill in view of the democratic majority. I stress that point.

I suggest in the Bill that there should be a Scottish Convention—a body elected by proportional representation in line with the single-Member constituencies and party list system advanced by the late John Mackintosh, a respected Member of this House, in an amendment to the Scotland Bill. The Convention would have the task of working out the constitution and powers of an assembly or parliamentary body in Scotland and reporting the outcome to the Government. The Bill does not lay down the methods of approach of the Convention. Indeed, the Convention would be open-ended in that direction, subject to the will of the Scottish people and the elections to it. It would not be unreasonable for the Convention to use the recently published White Paper on Northern Ireland as a starting point, as it contains a set of model proposals acceptable to the Government encompassing industrial and commerial power. That power must be returned to Scotland in view of growing unemployment.

When the Convention reports, the recommendations will be sent to the Secretary of State for submission to the Cabinet. By negotiation with the Convention, the constitutional package may then be agreed. We have experience of what can be done if the Government of the United Kingdom turn their attention, as in the case of Zimbabwe-Rhodesia, to a difficult situation.

In the event of agreement being reached on the package, that could go before the Scottish people by means of a referendum, to get their backing. In the event of a "Yes" vote being achieved in that referendum, the proposals could be placed before Parliament under the Order in Council procedure for approval by affirmative resolution of each House.

On the anniversary of the referendum, this Bill represents a new initiative. It brings the issue of Scottish government back home where it belongs. It will allow the Scottish representatives to argue out their various viewpoints to achieve a Parliament whose powers will be more workable than the Scottish Assembly mark I, which came before us last year.

4.16 pm

Yes, Mr. Speaker.

I am surprised that the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) has at this time and in this way tried to revive the corpse of a Scottish Assembly. It is only one year since the Scottish people made clear beyond any doubt that they did not support the concept of a Scottish Assembly. The members of the Scottish National Party may not like that fact, but it is the truth. It is clear that only one-third of the Scottish electorate was persuaded to vote in favour of that Assembly; one-third was persuaded to vote against. The key fact, which the hon. Gentleman omitted to mention, is that time after time the supporters of the Assembly said to the electors "If you do not vote in this referendum, that will count as a 'No' vote". In the rough weather of last February and March, many elderly people in particular found that not voting was the best way to register their opposition to a Scottish Assembly. The referendum made that quite clear.

The second reason for my surprise is that we know what happened to the Scottish National Party at the last election. Its members came forward with even further advanced ideas. They were absolutely massacred at the polls. The fact that the hon. Member for Dundee, East has only one right hon. Friend on the Bench beside him proves that. It is even more surprising that the hon. Gentleman should seek to revive the corpse of the Assembly. At its last party conference the Scottish National Party agreed by an overwhelming majority to have no future dealings with any Assembly or with devolution.

The third reason for my surprise is that talks are now going on in this House to discover whether there is some way in which the procedures of the government of Scotland can be improved. [Interruption.] The Opposition may not like those talks, but they are certainly going on. If anybody wants to know how serious is the Scottish National Party about wanting to improve the government of Scotland, there is an answer in the fact that it refused even to take part in those talks. That shows how shallow is its commitment to improving the government of Scotland.

At this stage I do not want to go through all the arguments that arise naturally out of what the hon. Gentleman proposes. A strong argument against a Convention leading to an Assembly is the fact that it would lead to more government when we want less and to more bureaucracy when we want less, and therefore to more expenditure and taxation, when we all want less taxation and expenditure, especially on bureaucrats.

The hon. Gentleman made no attempt to answer the fundamental constitutional point that arose time after time in the House. We cannot have a British constitution under which Scottish Members of Parliament have a right to legislate on education, health, and roads for parts of England, whereas Members of Parliament representing English seats do not have the right to do that for Scotland. That difficulty would arise as a result of the Assembly that the hon. Gentleman proposes. That would be constitutionally unfair and divisive.

I ask Parliament to consider from where this suggestion comes. It comes from the party in this House that is dedicated to the break-up of the United Kingdom. Indeed only on Saturday the hon. Member's election agent inserted in a local newspaper a little tombstone message, which said:
"Now it is independence, nothing less".
We can therefore draw no other conclusion than that the hon. Member's frivolous gambit today is designed to lead this House not, as he says, to an Assembly, but even further down the road. He wants independence, and he sees this as the first step towards the break-up of Britain. Whatever be the arguments of hon. Members on both sides of the House on this matter, I hope that they will agree, no matter what they may want in terms of constitutional reform in this country, that this Bill is certainly no way to go about constitutional reform.

Division No. 210]


[4.20 pm

Alton, DavidHome Robertson, JohnTorney, Tom
Beith, A. J.Howells, GeraintWainwright, Richard (Colne Valley)
Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N)Kilfedder, James A.Wilson, Gordon (Dundee East)
Campbell-Savours, DaleLambie, David
Canavan, DennisPenhallgon, DavidTELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Ellis, Tom (Wrexham)Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)Mr. D. E. Thomas and
Foulkes, GeorgeSteel, Rt Hon DavidMr. Dafydd Wigley.
Grimond, Rt Hon J.Stewart, Rt Hon Donald (W Isles)


Abse, LeoFlsher, Sir NigelLuce, Richard
Alexander, RichardFletcher, Alexander (Edinburgh N)Lyell, Nicholas
Ancram, MichaelFletcher-Cooke, CharlesMcCusker, H.
Atkins, Robert (Preston North)Fookes, Miss JanetMacfarlane, Neil
Baker, Kenneth (St. Marylebone)Forman, NigelMacGregor, John
Baker, Nicholas (North Dorset)Fowler, Rt Hon NormanMarlow, Tony
Bell, Sir RonaldFox, MarcusMarshall, Michael (Arundel)
Benyon, Thomas (Abingdon)Fraser, Rt Hon H. (Stafford & St)Marten, Neil (Banbury)
Benyon, W. (Buckingham)Fraser, Peter (South Angus)Mather, Carol
Berry, Hon AnthonyGardiner, George (Reigate)Maude, Rt Hon Angus
Best, KeithGarel-Jones, TristanMawby, Ray
Biffen, Rt Hon JohnGilmour, Rt Hon Sir IanMawhinney, Dr Brian
Blackburn, JohnGlyn, Dr AlanMellor, David
Boscawen, Hon RobertGoodhew, VictorMeyer, Sir Anthony
Bottomley, Peter (Woolwich West)Gow, IanMiller, Hal (Bromsgrove & Redditch)
Bowden, AndrewGower, Sir RaymondMills, Iain (Meriden)
Boyson, Dr RhodesGray, HamishMills, Peter (West Devon)
Brinton, TimGreenway, HarryMoate, Roger
Brittan, LeonGriffiths, Eldon (Bury St Edmunds)Molyneaux, James
Brooke, Hon PeterGummer, John SelwynMonro, Hector
Brotherton, MichaelHamilton, Hon Archie (Eps'm&Ew'll)Moore, John
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Sc'thorpe)Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)Morrison, Hon Peter (City of Chester)
Browne, John (Winchester)Hampson, Dr KeithMudd, David
Bulmer, EsmondHannam, JohnMurphy, Christopher
Butcher, JohnHaselhurst, AlanMyles, David
Cadbury, JocelynHastings, StephenNeedham, Richard
Carlisle, John (Luton West)Havers, Rt Hon Sir MichaelNelson, Anthony
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)Hawksley, WarrenNeubert, Michael
Carlisle, Rt Hon Mark (Runcorn)Hayhoe, BarneyNewton, Tony
Channon, PaulHeddle, JohnPage, Rt Hon Sir R. Graham
Chapman, SydneyHenderson, BarryPage, Richard (SW Hertfordshire)
Churchill, W. S.Heseltine, Rt Hon MichaelParkinson, Cecil
Clark, Hon Alan (Plymouth, Sutton)Hogg, Hon Douglas (Grantham)Patten, Christopher (Bath)
Clark, Sir William (Croydon South)Hooson, TomPatten, John (Oxford)
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)Hordern, PeterPawsey, James
Clegg, Sir WalterHowe, Rt Hon Sir GeoffreyPercival, Sir Ian
Cockeram, EricHowell, Rt Hon David (Guildford)Pollock, Alexander
Cope, JohnHughes, Robert (Aberdeen North)Powell, Rt Hon J. Enoch (S Down)
Cormack, PatrickHunt, David (Wirral)Prentice, Rt Hon Reg
Corrie, JohnHunt, John (Ravensbourne)Price, David (Eastleigh)
Costain, A. P.Jenkin, Rt Hon PatrickProctor, K. Harvey
Cryer, BobJopling, Rt Hon MichaelRaison, Timothy
Dean, Paul (North Somerset)Joseph, Rt Hon Sir KeithRathbone, Tim
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord JamesKershaw, AnthonyRees, Peter (Dover and Deal)
Dover, DenshoreKing, Rt Hon TomRhodes James, Robert
du Cann, Rt Hon EdwardKnight, Mrs JillRifkind, Malcolm
Dunn, Robert (Dartford)Lang, IanRippon, Rt Hon Geoffrey
Durant, TonyLangford-Holt, Sir JohnRoberts, Gwilym (Cannock)
Dykes, HughLawrence, IvanRoberts, Michael (Cardiff NW)
Eden, Rt Hon Sir JohnLawson, NigelRoberts, Wyn (Conway)
Edwards, Rt Hon N. (Pembroke)Leadbitter, TedRossi, Hugh
Elliott, Sir WilliamLee, JohnSainsbury, Hon Timothy
Eyre, ReginaldLe Marchant, SpencerSt. John-Stevas, Rt Hon Norman
Fairgrieve, RussellLennox-Boyd, Hon MarkShaw, Michael (Scarborough)
Fenner, Mrs PeggyLester, Jim (Beeston)Shelton, William (Streatham)
Finsberg, GeoffreyLloyd, Peter (Fareham)Shersby, Michael

I hope that the House will vote overwhelmingly to throw it out.

Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 13 ( Motions for leave to bring in Bills and Nomination of Select Committees at Commencement of Public Business):—

The House divided: Ayes 19, Noes 200.

Silvester, FredTownend, John (Bridlington)Wells, Bowen (Hert'rd & Stev'nage)
Sims, RogerTownsend, Cyril D. (Bexleyheath)Wheeler, John
Speller, TonyTrippier, DavidWhitelaw, Rt Hon William
Stainton, KeithTrotter, NevilleWhitney, Raymond
Stanley, JohnVaughan, Dr GerardWiggin, Jerry
Stevens, MartinWaddington, DavidWilkinson, John
Stewart, John (East Renfrewshire)Wakeham, JohnWolfson, Mark
Stokes, JohnWalker, Bill (Perth & E Perthshire)Young, Sir George (Acton)
Stradling Thomas, J.Walker-Smith, Rt Hon Sir Derek
Tapsell, PeterWall, PatrickTELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Tebbit, NormanWarren, KennethMr. Iain Sproat and
Thompson, DonaldWells, John (Maidstone)Mr. John Mackay.

Question accordingly negatived.