I am grateful for that confirmation. Can the right hon. Gentleman assure us that we shall have an opportunity to debate the White Paper very soon after Christmas? [Interruption.] I apologise for my confusion—I mean very soon after Easter. Will that debate be swiftly followed by a Bill so that it can be enacted and allow the United Kingdom to keep its commitment on this matter to its EEC partners?
Whether we debate the White Paper after Easter, after Christmas or after next year, will my right hon. Friend convey to his right hon. Friend the fact that many of us believe that it is most important for there to be a free vote not only on the method by which these elections should take place but on the principle?
No, I cannot. A statement has been made about the method of elections. I have been considering this complicated matter in some depth in recent weeks and in my mind has been the fact that, whether we stick to the existing system which has stood the test of 150 years or more or move in another direction, we must give the matter deep consideration—whether making a change or staying where we are—and not take the leap in the dark that is sometimes taken on electoral matters.
There is no suggestion of taking a leap in the dark. Can the right hon. Gentleman at least give an undertaking that the House will be given an opportunity to vote on the particular system and express its choice before a Bill is published with a particular system laid down in it?
In view of the recent weather that we have experienced, I do not think that my hon. Friend the Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Sims) was necessarily out of order in talking about Christmas. On the point raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw), may we have an assurance that the vote on the proportional representation aspect will be quite separate from any vote on the White Paper as a whole? That is very important.