HC Deb 26 July 1976 vol 916 cc26-9
24. Mr. Teddy Taylor

asked the Lord President of the Council how many letters he has now received from the general public and organisations, respectively, on the Government's devolution proposals.

The Minister of State, Privy Council Office (Mr. John Smith)

Since publication of the White Paper my right hon. Friend has received 164 letters from the general public and 41 from organisations, including letters addressed to the Constitution Unit.

Mr. Taylor

Will the Minister accept that opinion in Scotland is swinging against devolution as people begin to realise how much it will cost and the problems involved? Is it not an outrage that, at a time when a cut is being imposed for home helps and school crossing patrol attendants, an extra £10 million a year is to be spent on this silly bureaucratic Assembly?

Mr. Smith

I do not accept anything that the hon. Gentleman says. He must not confuse his own sincerely-held opinions with general opinion in Scotland. We made promises in our election manifesto which we are determined to fulfil.

Mr. Alexander Wilson

Will my hon. Friend accept that the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor) is the last person to whom he should listen about the opinion of the people of Scotland? Does he accept that the people of Scotland want devolution and an Assembly and that they will have that Assembly before this Parliament is finished?

Mr. Smith

I agree with all that my hon. Friend has said.

Mrs. Bain

Does the Minister agree that the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor) would be better placed in a museum of antiquities? When it comes to assessing the needs of the people of Scotland and their problems, does he not agree with the hon. Member for East Kilbride (Dr. Miller) who said that Scotland's oil means a lot to Scotland and little to England?

Mr. Smith

The future of the hon. Member for Cathcart rests with the electorate and not with me. Oil will be of great benefit to the United Kingdom as a whole and to Scotland in particular. I reject any under-assessment of it by the hon. Lady and her colleagues.

Mr. Dalyell

What is more important to our constituents, the local authority personal services such as home helps or yet another additional tier of government in Edinburgh?

Mr. Smith

My hon. Friend can take many items of expenditure and make false comparisons. We are concerned with having a good level of social services but also that democratic changes should be made. The vast majority of my hon. Friend's colleagues, particularly those representing Scottish constituencies, strongly support devolution.

Mr. Gow

Is the Minister aware that it is not only in Scotland but in England that the Government's devolution proposals are viewed with increasing distaste? By what lawful authority are the Government engaging in the expenditure of public funds on the Royal High School in Edinburgh?

Mr. Smith

I am as good a judge as the hon. Gentleman in these matters, especially of opinion north of the border. He may recall—he can look it up in Hansard—that the expenditure on the Contingency Fund was announced to Parliament before Easter without dissent from the Opposition.

Mr. Joseph Dean

Is my hon. Friend aware that the figure of £10 million which was mentioned earlier is probably too small? Is he also aware that there will be bitter resistance to devolution from some hon. Members on the Labour Benches if it means a diminution of resources in the public sector in the English regions to finance this over-expensive and unnecessary legislation for Scotland and Wales?

Mr. Smith

I can assure my hon. Friend that our devolution proposals in no way mean a diminution of public services to other parts of the United Kingdom. We shall take care to make sure that that is so. I am sure that that is understood by my hon. Friend, who is rightly anxious about the area he represents. Once it becomes clear that this is not an attempt to reallocate resources, he will perhaps, like many of his hon. Friends, take a different view of devolution.

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  3. OFFICIAL REPORT 101 words