In accordance with the recommendation in paragraph 322 of the report by the constitutional committee presided over by my right hon. Friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary, the Government have not at any stage contemplated that proposals would be put forward before action had been taken on local government reform and therefore before Parliament has passed the Local Government (Scotland) Bill.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that action is being taken on local government? There is a Bill before the House which he may have noticed. Will he give a firm undertaking that a Bill to set up a Scottish Assembly—whatever anyone may think, it was part of the Tory election pledge—will be introduced within a year?
We have just had Second Reading of that Bill, on which the right hon. Gentleman will have noticed that there was a considerable difference of opinion. I certainly should not wish to prejudge Parliament's decision on the Bill before it has even gone into Committee. We have made this quite clear. As there has been some speculation on the second point, perhaps I may say that when the time comes for such proposals to be put forward a Green Paper would seem a suitable way of doing it.
Since the right hon. Gentleman is aware of the threat by Miss Wendy Wood to fast unto death until a date is announced for the setting up of the assembly—first, it is a minor degree of self-government compared with what Miss Wood has been contending for all her life, and secondly, as mentioned by the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond), it is in accord with a promise made by the Conservative Party that a Scottish Assembly would be introduced, as announced by the Prime Minister in the Declaration of Perth amid a grandiose fanfare over three years ago—surely it is not an unreasonable demand, to prevent this happening to Miss Wood, that the Secretary of State should announce the date for the setting up of the assembly.
I described in my original answer what our position has always been on this matter and the order of events. I am extremely concerned about Miss Wood's health. I have managed to get messages through to her which I think have corrected her original misunderstanding. I hope that what I have said about a Green Paper coming forward at the appropriate time will meet her wishes.
Will my right hon. Friend make it quite clear to the hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. Donald Stewart) and others who have misunderstood the position completely, and probably deliberately, that everything he has said today is precisely in line with the clear statement by the Prime Minister in the Declaration of Perth and that we have done precisely what we said we would do and will go on doing precisely what we said we would do?
Will the right hon. Gentleman reconsider and give a definitive answer? It is about time that the country knew about the situation. I do not go back to the Declaration of Perth: I go back to the first Queen's Speech of the present Government in 1970 when this subject was singled out for mention. There was nothing about Green Papers then. It was a specific statement that this was to be done. Will the right hon. Gentleman now tell us when?
If the right hon. Gentleman will look up that Queen's Speech he will see that it stated that proposals would be put forward in the life of this Parliament, not in the first Session. It was done because people were interested and needed to be reminded of what we had said and the timetable.