HC Deb 05 August 1975 vol 897 cc243-5
The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Edward Short)

I regret that I was not in my place yesterday when the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) raised the matter of an article in the Daily Record on Friday 1st August. My right hon. Friend the Chief Whip said that I would make a statement today. I had already seen the article referred to and can only say that if I were to come to this Dispatch Box to comment on all the Press speculation on devolution, I should be here daily.

As I have frequently made clear to the House, the Government are examining all the issues that arise on devolution. Some of these are mentioned in the article—the constitution and working of the Scottish Assembly, its economic and taxation powers, and so on. There is no secret about the issues involved. But this article is intelligent speculation and nothing more. Final decisions on these matters have not been taken. All the issues involved in devolution will be reviewed together before decisions are reached on the scheme as a whole. When we have done that, our proposals will be set out in detail in a White Paper. I have already made clear that this White Paper will be published in the autumn.

Mr. Whitelaw

Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm his appreciation of the major constitutional issue involved? Does he therefore agree that this question is far too serious to be dealt with on the basis of leaks and speculation? Does he accept that in considering devolution proposals we shall discuss not only the future of Scotland and Wales but also the future composition and powers of the Parliament at Westminster? Does he understand that those of us who support sensible proposals for devolution are nevertheless determined to ensure that these do not undermine the basic unity of the United Kingdom?

Mr. Short

I agree with every word spoken by the right hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Dalyell

May we take it that the Daily Record claim, that there is a set blueprint, is without foundation?

Mr. Short

Yes, Sir.

Mr. Donald Stewart

With regret I heard the Lord President say that he agreed with every word spoken by the right hon. Member for Penrith and the Border (Mr. Whitelaw). Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that all that matters is to achieve genuine proposals for devolution, to ensure that the timetable is kept to, and that the reactionaries in the Labour and Tory parties do not dictate against the wishes of the Scottish people?

Mr. Short

I agree that it is important to obtain credible, viable proposals for devolution. I shall present those to the House at the end of the year. That is the only commitment we have made about the timetable. That commitment will be kept.

Mr. Grimond

Are we to understand that the leaks in the Scottish Press are totally without foundation, and secondly, that the devolution Bill will be produced by Christmas of this year, although the White Paper will not be available until the autumn?

Mr. Short

I hope that the White Paper will be available about the second week in October. We hope that the Bill will be available by the end of the year or the beginning of the next year.

I cannot say anything about leaks in the Press. The issues are discussed and are well known. There is no secret about them. The issues were discussed in a seven-hour debate recently. The Press speculates on these issues daily.

Mr. Cledwyn Hughes

Is my right hon. Friend aware that it is not desirable that there should be any great disparity between the proposals for Scotland and the proposals for Wales?

Mr. Short

There is one great disparity, which we set out in the White Paper last year. The Scottish Assembly will have legislative power in restricted fields. The Welsh Assembly will not have that power. It will have executive power. I thought that there was general agreement in Wales on that.

Mr. Alexander Fletcher

In describing this article as intelligent speculation, is the right hon. Gentleman saying that it is largely correct in the analysis it provides of Government intentions on this matter?

Mr. Short

I have said nothing of the kind. I said that this article discussed the issues. Newspaper articles do so daily. There is no secret about the issues. The issues are known. Any journalist who has followed the devolution exercise can speculate intelligently on these matters—as this one did.