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Devolution (Legislation)

Volume 895: debated on Monday 7 July 1975

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asked the Lord President of the Council whether he will now make a statement on the timetable for the proposed legislation on devolution.

My right hon. Friend the Lord President has several times told the House that there will be a White Paper in the autumn and that he hoped that the Bill would be ready by the end of the year, and there is no change in that position.

Bearing in mind that Assemblies for Scotland and Wales were promised in the Labour Party manifesto and that reference was made in the Queen's Speech to urgent preparations for such plans, will my hon. Friend do all he can to expedite the implementation of that decision and not listen to those Cabinet Ministers who are quoted as thinking that the devolution plans can be scrapped or shelved because of the recent EEC referendum result?

Everything has been and will be done to expedite the preparation of plans. If my hon. Friend accepts that this is a major constitutional change, I hope he will agree that we would be very ill-advised to rush into it with undue preparation.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that many people would entirely agree with his view that this is a major constitutional development which will have most profound repercussions for the whole of the United Kingdom and its future unity? Is he aware that any suggestion that this House should rush into it without the most careful consideration would be extremely unwise? Will he give an assurance that when the White Paper is published in the autumn there will be the opportunity for a debate and that the White Paper will do its best to give a realistic estimate of the likely cost of any developments outlined in it?

I hope that the cost of our devolution proposals will be minimal. They may well lead to a more sensible and coherent use of resources in Scotland and Wales. We are publishing the White Paper in the hope that there will be the fullest and freest discussion of its proposals in the House and outside it.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that his last statement and his reply to his hon. Friend the Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan) represent a disgraceful piece of backsliding on this issue?

There is no backsliding. I repeated today the pledge that has been made in the past. It would appear that the hon. Gentleman is waiting to hear bad news which has has come to expect merely because his party sees an advantage in hearing bad news. There is no backsliding and I repeat the pledge I gave earlier.

As the Minister has said that there must be ample time for discussion after the publication of the White Paper in the autumn, will he give a guarantee that the Bill which follows will be introduced sufficiently early in the Session to allow proper discussion in Parliament rather than have what has happened this Session when important Bills have not appeared until April or May?

I will give an assurance that there will be adequate time for a full discussion of what will be a most important piece of legislation.

In view of the rumours that the Government are backpedalling on this question of devolution, may I ask the Minister to give a categoric assurance that the Bill will be published before the end of the year?

No, Sir. I have repeatedly said, as has my right hon. Friend, that we shall endeavour to have a Bill ready by the end of the year. As for rumours, we are not a Government who believe in Government by rumour. We may be reaching a point when Conservative Members and Members of the other parties start rumours which they think are to their political advantage and then quote them against the Government.

Is it true that the Government are considering giving separate powers of taxation to a Scottish Assembly? If this is the case, will the Government bear in mind the danger of Scotland becoming the most over-governed and over-taxed country in the world?

The hon. Member will get an answer to his question when the White Paper is published.