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Volume 886: debated on Thursday 20 February 1975

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asked the Prime Minister if, on his forthcoming visit to Scotland, he will pay an official visit to Edinburgh.

I have no immediate plans to visit Edinburgh, but my discussions with the Scottish Trades Union Congress and the Scottish Council, Development and Industry on 27th and 28th February will cover a wide range of matters of importance to Scotland generally.

Will my right hon. Friend make it clear during his visit to Scotland that before any parliamentary draftsman is asked to try his hand at a Bill bestowing on us not only an Assembly but possibly also a Scottish Cabinet and a Scottish Prime Minister, this House will have a White Paper which can be thoroughly debated and scrutinised?

My hon. Friend will be aware that these matters were fully discussed with the Scottish TUC, with industry and with a wide range of interests in Scotland last year. I have taken note of what he and other hon. Members said in the debate on 3rd February. As my hon. Friend the Lord President said, we intend to keep the House fully informed of our thinking on these complex matters.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that in dealing with this difficult problem of devolution we are engaged in a major constitutional exercise and perhaps the most important constitutional reform of the United Kingdom since the Act of Union? If this is so, since the right hon. Gentleman has always been jealous of the interests of the House—which will be profoundly affected—does he agree that a White Paper is essential before there is any question of legislation?

I entirely agree with what the right hon. Member said about the fundamental character of these matters. I heard part of his speech and read the whole of it. It was, if he will allow me to say so, a notable contribution to this subject. The proposals made in the House about a White Paper are being earnestly considered by my right hon. Friend.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Leader of the Opposition will be visiting Edinburgh tomorrow, where she will be assured of a very warm welcome because we know that she will show genuine sympathy and understanding for those children in grant-aided schools whose educational prospects have been severely impaired by the Government's policy?

I am delighted that the right hon. Lady is visiting Edinburgh tomorrow. I am sure that she will get a very warm response from her supporters, as I did from mine on two visits to Edinburgh last year. On these questions of education, which I have examined over a long time, I support the attitude of the Labour authority.

If the Prime Minister is contemplating a visit to Edinburgh will he make sure that before he goes he reads the interesting series of articles on devolution in the Scotsman, including those by his hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh)? Is he aware of the growing feeling in Scotland to the effect that if the Government are to complete this exercise in devolution it must be done properly, otherwise Scotland will be saddled with yet another layer of bureaucracy which will make very little difference to policy making?

Before making such a visit I would certainly wish to study this and all other relevant material. I am well aware of the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh) on this and on other matters.