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Volume 901: debated on Sunday 2 March 1975

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asked the Prime Minister if he will pay an official visit to Inverness.

I have been asked to reply. My right hon. Friend has at present no plans to do so, Sir.

If the Prime Minister has no present plans to go to Inverness I am sure that the Chancellor will agree that the Prime Minister—being a kind of movable feast—will eventually arrive there. Will the right hon. Gentleman ask the Prime Minister, when he goes to Inverness, to proceed by the A9, in the hope that that will lead to improvements being made in the road? Will the right hon. Gentleman also tell the Prime Minister that the Member for Inverness, estimable as he may be, was elected by only 32 per cent. of the electorate—

Not only the pavements are cracked. It would be appreciated by the electors of Inverness if a member of the Government could explain the justification for doubling the existing electoral injustice when the Scottish and Welsh Parliaments are introduced.

I shall bear in mind in future that the hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Russell Johnston) represents well under half his constituents. I am glad to say that that is not so in my case. I cannot guarantee, on my next visit to Inverness, to travel along the A9 road, but if I do so in the immediate future I shall be happy to find and be able to inform the hon. Gentleman that progress is satisfactory, that the first scheme at Almond Bridge, at Perth, is now open to traffic and that work is proceeding satisfactorily on six other schemes, at a cost of £29 million. I should be even happier to be able to inform the hon. Gentleman, as a minority representative of his constituency, that tenders have been invited for a further three schemes, covering 10 miles, and that procedural and technical preparations are going ahead to maintain a steady flow of other schemes.

Which does my right hon. Friend think more important to the people of Inverness—a monster plesiosaur in Loch Ness or a monster bureaucracy in Edinburgh?

I regret to say that I am incapable of deciding the precedence between those two monsters, but I do not believe that it was the purpose of my hon. Friend's supplementary question to suggest that the Government's proposals for devolution will require the creation of a monster bureaucracy.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that people in Inverness and the rest of the United Kingdom believe that the Government's White Paper on devolution will prove to be both unworkable and likely to threaten the unity of the United Kingdom? It is almost impossible for the House to keep its self-respect and at the same time implement proposals based on the detail of the White Paper. Will he therefore ask the Prime Minister to withdraw it in toto and start again?

I could scarcely fail to be aware that there is in the House a wide variety of views on the White Paper, but I ask the hon. Gentleman to reflect that, given the known state of public opinion in Scotland and Wales, to maintain the status quo would be quite impossible and undesirable. That being so, some means must be found of satisfying the legitimate desire of the Welsh and Scottish peoples for more influence on their own affairs.

The Government believe that they have found the right balance between a number of conflicting alternatives, and I am interested to know that the two larger Opposition parties disagree totally about the direction in which the Government's proposals are mistaken. But there will be ample opportunity to consider the proposals now that the White Paper has been published, and a further opportunity after the publication of the Bill, in the spring. I am certain that the right way to approach this immensely important problem is at a pace which enables the peoples of all parts of the United Kingdom to express their considered views.