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A House of Lords and a single-party government at Westminster were included in Initial proposals for devolution to Scotland.
New documents published today from the National Archives expose negotiations between Harold Wilson, then Prime Minister of Labour, and his closest advisors on the need for Scotland and Wales to slow down devolution.
They also detail how the prime minister felt “a bit scary.” was Scotland.
The 1974 and 1975 documents explain the establishment of a new constitutional unit in Whitehall charged with researching and planning for the establishment of Scottish and Welsh assemblies before the failed 1979 referendum.
They outline the need to find new accommodation for the unit and recruit 24 workers to work on it, including topics such as restructuring of the Lords and membership of the European Economic Community (EEC).
A letter to John Hunt, then Cabinet Minister, explained the need to decide how to deal with elections to new legislatures, suggested making voting compulsory, and proposed banning the release of opinion polls 10 days before elections.
Hunt also indicated that there could be a second Lords-style chamber in Scotland and Wales to review legislation and said that the principle of proportional representation, the electoral system currently in effect at Holyrood, had been ruled out.
“Now that the government has decided against proportional representation for elections to the Scottish and Welsh assemblies, making continued one-party government a real possibility, the case for unicameral assemblies is weakened and a reformed House of Lords at Westminster, with a new composition and perhaps new powers, could prove to be something that could be repeated in Scotland and Wales.”Now that the government has decided against proportional representation for the Scottish and Welsh elections, creating a real possibility for continued one-party government, the case for unicameral assemblies is weakened and a reformed House of Lords in Westminster, with a new composition and perhaps new powers, could prove to be something that could be repeated in Scotland and repeated in Scotland.
In the case of devolution, the archival material also outlines discussions about what powers will pass to Scotland.
In August 1974, State Minister Lord Crowther-Hunt told Harold Wilson that ministers would have to decide “whether the Scottish and Welsh assemblies should have any executive powers in the areas of trade, industry and employment,” but added, “It is clear that the Scottish Parliament cannot have legislative power in these areas.”
Following Prime Minister Wilson’s 1974 manifesto promise to give more powers to Scotland and Wales, the constitutional unit was created in 1975.
Ministers were split about how rapidly devolution could be enforced, amid internal attempts in Whitehall.
Documents from this time also indicate that some MPs tried to take a “slow” approach to give more powers to Scotland and Wales.
They included Roy Jenkins, home secretary; Tony Benn, energy secretary; and Anthony Crosland, foreign secretary.
An investigation was initiated after data was leaked to the Scotsman newspaper and The Times that a “fiasco” had been a high-level ministerial meeting on devolution at Chequers and some ministers were quoted as saying that the proposals could not be hurried forward.
Sir Phillip Allen, a former permanent under-secretary of state at the Home Office, who was paid £ 134 for his work during the investigation, led the inquiry.
Government officials concluded after a prolonged investigation that there were possibly two sources of the leaks, but could not state categorically who they were.
Initially, strong suspicions pointed to then-Labour MP Jim Sillars and his Labour colleague Harry Ewing, a junior minister in the Scottish Bureau, even though they denied it.
“I am afraid that I have not solved the mystery of the Scotsman article. As you will see, I do not believe that Ewing was responsible. It should be borne in mind that Ewing and Sillars are not drinkers (or so I believe) and do not frequent the bar, and that Sillars is not a member of the Scottish Executive.”I’m afraid I haven’t solved the Scotsman article’s mystery. I don’t believe that Ewing was responsible, as you will see. It should be remembered that Ewing and Sillars are not drinkers (or so I think) and don’t frequent the bar, and that Sillars is not a member of the Scottish Executive.
Mr. Ewing and Mr. Sillars had shared a London apartment, which officials disapproved of because they believed that Mr. Ewing would unintentionally share with Mr. Sillars, a backbencher, classified information.
At the time, one official told Mr. Hunt, “[Mr. Ewing] shared a house with Mr. Sillars and Mr. Alexander Eaa in London.”