HC Deb 19 March 1974 vol 870 cc843-5
Q2. Dr. Marshall

asked the Prime Minister what arrangements he has made for assigning ministerial responsibility for matters arising from the report of the Royal Commission on the Constitution.

The Prime Minister

My right hon. Friends the Home Secretary and the Secretaries of State for the Environment, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will normally deal with Parliamentary Questions and other matters arising from the report which relate to their particular departmental responsibilities. Work on the report generally will be co-ordinated by my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council, who will deal with parliamentary Questions and other matters relating to the report as a whole.

Dr. Marshall

Does my right hon. Friend accept that many of us in the Yorkshire and Humberside regions, no less than others in more distant parts of the United Kingdom, are anxious for a devolution of power away from London soon? Therefore, who in the regions will be consulted by the Government during the forthcoming discussions on this matter?

The Prime Minister

It was for the reason mentioned by my hon. Friend that I referred to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, who will be particularly concerned with the recommendations of the reports of the commission dealing with particular regions of England. The question of who will be consulted is still to be considered, the maximum consultation being with those who have been elected to represent the people in those areas.

Mr. Kilfedder

The Prime Minister knows that there was a recommendation that the number of Members for Northern Ireland should be increased to at least 17. Will he give an assurance that the Government will implement that recommendation for at least 17 Members, or up to 20 Members?

The Prime Minister

I cannot give any such undertaking.

Mr. Donald Stewart

Will the right hon. Gentleman, in view of the unsatisfactory time scale outlined by the Lord President of the Council last night, give the House an assurance of the time in which legislation for implementing the Kilbrandon Report can be submitted to the House?

The Prime Minister

I had difficulty in hearing my right hon. Friend last night because of the noise from other quarters of the House. From what I have found out about what he succeeded in saying. I am not aware that he said anything about an unsatisfactory time scale. He said "as soon as possible". I do not think he could do better than that.

Mr. Wigley

Will the Prime Minister confirm that the Secretary of State for Wales has been made aware of his responsibility in this matter, bearing in mind that yesterday he evaded answering a Question on the subject and left it to the Lord President of the Council to make a statement later?

The Prime Minister

Not only is my right hon. Friend aware of his duties and responsibilities here: he was born aware of those responsibilities.

Mr. Heath

It seemed from what the Leader of the House said last night that the Government will carry through a fairly extensive series of consultations on Kilbrandon and will then publish a White Paper embodying their conclusions. Would it not be preferable, particularly in view of the time factor, and also of public discussion as well as discussion in this House, that the Government should reach provisional conclusions, setting them out in a consultative document which would then provide the basis for the exposition of different views in the House and, as the Prime Minister said, from other elected bodies in the country?

The Prime Minister

That is always a possibility, and the Green Papers which we introduced some years ago have now become part of our practice. I am not sure that is the right way. As far as I am aware, there have not been really serious consultations between the previous Government and others concerned. Nor have we had such consultations. I should have thought that the best thing would be to make speedy progress with consultations and then publish a White Paper, which need not be final and which can be discussed further.

Mr. Sillars

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the appointment of Lord Crowther-Hunt in no way implies acceptance by the Labour Government of the minority report of the Royal Commission?

The Prime Minister

It in no way implies that. The service which my noble Friend will give, not only to the Government but also to all other parties who wish to consult him, is that he is extremely well versed in the matters brought before Kilbrandon. He is not there as a custodian of the minority report or anything else. He is there as a constitutional adviser, and he will discuss on behalf of the Government all proposals and all aspects whether coming from the majority report or from any of the minority reports or riders of disagreement.

Mr. Monro

Is the Prime Minister aware that many of us welcome the principle of devolution? Does he accept the unanimous rejection of separation by the Kilbrandon Report?

The Prime Minister

It has always been our position that we do not agree with full separation, but we are prepared to have discussions to make a reality of some of the proposals in the report as may seem right after our consultations.