HC Deb 27 November 1975 vol 901 cc1036-8
Q1. Mr. David Steel

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

The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Wilson)

I have at present no plans to do so, Sir.

Mr. Steel

Having read the Government's White Paper on devolution this morning, may I ask the Prime Minister if he is aware that I am greatly relieved by that reply? May I inform him that he might be well advised to stay out of Scotland for a very long time, until the rage and fury have died down? Is he aware that although many of us expected the powers outlined in the White Paper to be less than we would wish, none of us had any idea that the Government would propose that Westminster should retain a political veto over the whole range of functions devolved to Scotland and at the same time increase the powers of the Secretary of State, and include even those of the Governor-General of Australia? Will the Prime Minister, between now and the publication of the Bill, enter into serious inter-party talks on the inadequacies of this document?

The Prime Minister

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on the speed of his reading but not on the perception that he brought to it. If this is what he feels on a first quick reading, I am very surprised at the squalor of his deal with the Conservatives who took a very different

view of devolution when they voted on Tuesday night—[Interruption.] It is a matter for the hon. Gentleman's conscience.

As regards the last and serious part of the hon. Gentleman's question, our idea in publishing this very full White Paper is that it should promote a national debate—by "national", I mean not only in Scotland and in Wales but throughout the United Kingdom—so that the Government can take account of the views expressed in the national debate as well as in debate in the House in relation to the Bill that will be presented to the House in this Session.

Mr. Dalyell

As the Labour candidate for Hawick in 1959, may I ask my right hon. Friend whether there might not be more people interested in a railway line for Hawick to Edinburgh than in an Assembly in Edinburgh?

The Prime Minister

That is certainly possible. I am always willing to listen to my hon. Friend's advice, though I am not sure that he represents a majority either of the Scottish Labour Party or of the people of Scotland on the question of devolution.

Mr. Peyton

The Prime Minister is awfully good at using words, just off the cuff, which reflect the state of his mind rather than the facts. Will he explain what he meant by "squalor" just now?

The Prime Minister

As I read some time ago that the right hon. Gentleman's contrived questions to me were based on four hours' pacing round his study on a Sunday evening preparing supplementary questions to the Prime Minister, I certainly understand his envy of anybody who can answer a question without preparation. As for the term "squalor", as he has put a clear question for once I shall be delighted to answer it. It is a matter of opinion, I agree; we may not all agree about it, but I think that the Liberal Party joining to support the Conservatives on Tuesday—since, on devolution, on which the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel) is putting his Question, the Conservatives are a long way behind the Labour Party—does represent squalor.

Mr. Peyton

Does the Prime Minister appreciate that we have all enjoyed once more his characteristic meandering around the point?

The Prime Minister

That is a less specific question than the last one asked by the right hon. Gentleman, which was easy. The right hon. Gentleman must realise that as the Liberal Party is at least working hard to produce a policy on other matters, it is regretted by some of us on the Government side of the House that the Liberals should join in voting with the Conservative Party, which is not pursuing any policy at all.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

We must get on. Mr. Graham.

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