HC Deb 23 February 1976 vol 906 cc22-4
41. Mr. Canavan

asked the Lord President of the Council how many representations he has now received about the Government's White Paper on devolution.

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Edward Short)

Since the publication of the White Paper I have received 122 representations, including letters addressed to the Constitution Unit. In addition, there have been 1,700 representations to other Departments, of which 1,450 have been sent to the Welsh Office. Of the 400 organisations specifically invited to comment, 114 have so far replied to the relevant Departments.

Mr. Canavan

From these representations is it now clear that a large number of individuals and organisations concerned with Scottish education, including the Educational Institute of Scotland, the National Union of Students and the leadership of the STUC, are of the opinion that a more democratic and coordinated system of tertiary education in Scotland could be achieved if the devolution proposals were extended in some way to include the Scottish universities?

Mr. Short

I understand the feelings of my hon. Friend and of a good many other hon. Members on this subject. It is a question of holding the balance between, on the one hand, the obvious desirability of having all the United Kingdom universities under the supervision of one University Grants Committee and, on the other, the natural desire in Scotland to deal with the whole area of further education under one umbrella. This is one of the areas in which we are studying the representations that we have received.

Mr. Crawford

There is a great feeling of cynicism in Scotland concerning Government commitments to devolution. In view of the failure of the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friend the Minister of State at the Scottish Office to honour the policies and commitments on the timetable last year, will the right hon. Gentleman give a clear assurance and an indication of the precise month in which the real—not the dummy—Bill on the Scottish Assembly will be published?

Mr. Short

A good deal of the cynicism is being generated by the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends. We are the first Government ever to put forward a detailed, workable, credible scheme for devolution for Scotland and Wales. As we promised, the Bill will be introduced in the House at the beginning of next Session.

Mr. Michael McGuire

Is my right hon. Friend aware that one of the consequences of the devolution argument has been that the minds of people, for instance, in the North-West, have been concentrated on how badly they have been dealt with by the Government on such matters as the transfer and dispersal of Civil Service jobs? Will my right hon. Friend take it from me that we on the Government Back Benches, and North-West Members of Parliament in particular, will be pressing for our own Question Time, so that we can concentrate the Government's attention on our problems?

Mr. Short

Without accepting the premise on which my hon. Friend based his supplementary question, I point out that I do understand his feelings on this matter. I hope that next month we shall publish the White Paper on possible schemes for devolution to the English regions.

Mr. Whitelaw

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that his constant references to "the Bill" will make many people extremely uneasy—especially those who have made representations to him from Wales? Has he ruled out the possibility of having two Bills, because the situations in Scotland and Wales are wholly and completely different? These representations have been made to him on many occasions. Has he ruled out this possibility?

Mr. Short

When the right hon. Gentleman raised this matter during the debate I promised to consider it. We are certainly still considering the matter.