Oral Answers to Questions — Devolution Legislation

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 1st November 1976.

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Photo of Dennis Canavan Dennis Canavan , Stirlingshire West 12:00 am, 1st November 1976

asked the Lord President of the Council whether he can now name a date for the publication of the Bill on devolution.

Photo of Mr John Smith Mr John Smith , Lanarkshire North

The Bill will be introduced early in the coming Session.

Photo of Dennis Canavan Dennis Canavan , Stirlingshire West

Will my hon. Friend deny the silly rumours that the Government are likely to give way to IMF pressure to scrap the devolution proposals? Bearing in mind last week's opinion poll published in the Scotsman indicating that the vast majority of Scots want a referendum, which would conclusively show that the vast majority of Scots would prefer devolution to SNP-style separation, will my hon. Friend and the Government continue to consider proposals for holding a referendum?

Photo of Mr John Smith Mr John Smith , Lanarkshire North

I read with astonishment the story to which my hon. Friend has referred. It is about the silliest story to appear in any newspaper this year, and that is saying quite a lot. My hon. Friend is right in telling the House that recently, according to opinion polls, there has been a convincing demonstration of support for the Government's policy on devolution and an indication that the vast majority of people in Scotland wish to remain full members of the United Kingdom. This encourages the Government to think that their proposals are not only right but popular.

Photo of Mr Jeremy Thorpe Mr Jeremy Thorpe , North Devon

Is the Minister hopeful that he can fulfil the promise of the right hon. Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson) that when the Bill on devolution is published we shall also be able to see the White Paper on devolution for England? How are the Government getting on with their discussions on that matter?

Photo of Mr John Smith Mr John Smith , Lanarkshire North

My right hon. Friend the Lord President has made it clear that we shall publish the consultative document on the English regions before the Second Reading debate on the devolution Bill. That is a categorical assurance that will be adhered to. There has been some fair criticism of the Government for not having produced the document before now.

Photo of Mr William Whitelaw Mr William Whitelaw , Penrith and The Border

Is it really the Government's intention still to go on with the idea of having one Bill for both Scotland and Wales when the problems in the two countries are totally different, as everyone knows? What is the purpose of going on with the one Bill when obviously two Bills would be far better?

Photo of Mr John Smith Mr John Smith , Lanarkshire North

If we had two Bills for the two countries, they would not both be passed within the next parliamentary Session. We believe that the proposals for both concern themselves with transfer of powers outwards from Westminster and Whitehall and that, therefore, it is appropriate that they should be dealt with together. I should like the right hon. Gentleman or another representative of the Opposition to explain how it is possible to be in favour of devolution for Scotland but not for Wales.

Photo of Mr Eric Heffer Mr Eric Heffer , Liverpool, Walton

Is my hon. Friend aware that while there may be pressure for devolution for Scotland and Wales, although I doubt that there is very much in Wales, there is certaintly no real pressure for devolution in England? May I ask him not to consider it in any way a matter of vital importance that such a White Paper should be published before we discuss these unnecessary Bills—unnecessary for Britain, anyway?

Photo of Mr John Smith Mr John Smith , Lanarkshire North

My hon. Friend will not be surprised to learn that I disagree with his major point. We consider that the Bill for Scotland and Wales is of paramount importance. We shall produce for the English regions a consultative document, on which my hon. Friend's views and the views of all hon. Members will be welcomed.

Photo of Mr Gwynfor Evans Mr Gwynfor Evans , Carmarthen

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that recent speeches, statements and writings by persons who hold the highest offices in the State have made clear and have underlined the almost desperate need to decentralise power? Is he aware that the main weakness of the British system of government is its extreme centralism, and that powers should be decentralised from the bureaucrats, who now hold it, to the people?

Photo of Mr John Smith Mr John Smith , Lanarkshire North

The hon. Gentleman covered a very wide field in that question. I shall confine myself to saying that we believe that the decentralisation of power and the increase of democratic accountability, which lie at the heart of our devolution proposals, are a desirable step forward in modern British government.

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

Will the hon. Gentleman comment on the report in The Times today that there is to be a referendum on devolution? Is it correct? If so, will he make it plain that it is not for better, more open government but is simply to satisfy dissidents in his own ranks?

Photo of Mr John Smith Mr John Smith , Lanarkshire North

My right hon. Friend the Lord President has made it clear that the Government would entertain no referendum in advance of the Bill which is to be published on devolution. If any other proposals are made, they will be considered in Parliament, and the merits and demerits put forward by their advocates and those who oppose such suggestions will be fully considered by the Government.