Devolution

Oral Answers to Questions — European Community – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 21st January 1976.

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Photo of Mr Bryan Gould Mr Bryan Gould , Southampton, Test 12:00 am, 21st January 1976

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement on the rôle which he foresees for himself when the Government's proposals for devolution are implemented.

Photo of Mr Harry Ewing Mr Harry Ewing , Stirling Falkirk and Grangemouth

The proposed rôle of the Secretary of State for Scotland is set out in detail in Part V of the White Paper "Our Changing Democracy: Devolution to Scotland and Wales".

Photo of Mr Bryan Gould Mr Bryan Gould , Southampton, Test

Will my right hon. Friend accept that many of us believe that the Government's basic devolution structure is right, but we are nevertheless concerned about the possibility of long-term damage being inflicted by a political conflict between the Assembly and Westminster, as seems implicit in the White Paper proposals? Is it not better to seek to define as closely as possible the respective areas of competence and leave it to the courts rather than to the politicians to decide what is or is not valid Scottish legislation?

Mr. Ross:

The House has already debated this subject for four days and the matter mentioned by my hon. Friend was well aired. We said that we would further consider whether to use the courts. I was impressed by the fact that one newspaper, printed in Manchester, advocated getting rid of the Secretary of State altogether—with a certain measure of approval from the Liberal Benches. I assure the House that that report was rather exaggerated.

Photo of Malcolm Rifkind Malcolm Rifkind , Edinburgh Pentlands

As we have been discussing possibly extinct species, will the right hon. Gentleman say whether, even if that report is exaggerated, the Government are considering reducing the powers of his office to meet criticisms of the White Paper?

Mr. Ross:

If the hon. Gentleman believes that report, he will believe anything.

Photo of Mr George Reid Mr George Reid , Stirlingshire East and Clackmannan

Given the Secretary of State's new governor-general type of powers, will the right hon. Gentleman comment on the statement—or, as I see it, threat—by the Lord President of the Council in the debate last Wednesday when he said that even if Scotland were to obtain independence, public opinion or international law might prevent it? What public opinion and what international law? Will the right hon. Gentleman take this opportunity to reaffirm the Government's belief that if the people want self-determination they have a right to it?

Mr. Ross:

The hon. Gentleman is right to try to make a better speech today than he did when he addressed the House on devolution. All these matters were relevant at the time and will be again. As for my having governor-general type powers, I must point out that the powers in the hands of the Secretary of State are governmental powers, and even in respect of more formal powers a Secretary of State is still subject and responsible to this House.

Dr. M. S. Miller:

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the White Paper that we were discussing last week has "green" edges, that its proposals about his powers are by no means absolutely definite, and that this whole scheme could still be qualified and modified in the weeks to come?

Mr. Ross:

I hoped that I had made the point clear when I replied to the debate last week, especially on the subject of change. Equally, I made it clear that in devolution the sovereignty of this Parliament must still be recognised.