HC Deb 04 August 1975 vol 897 cc29-31
Mr. Dalyell

I ask for the forbearance of the House on a busy day in asking leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 9, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely, what purports to be the revelation to the Scottish Press of the blueprint of the Government's White Paper on Devolution. In one of the longest Consolidated Fund Bill debates on a single subject since the war, this House, to the irritation of many of those who had subjects lower down the list of subjects for debate, discussed devolution for seven solid hours on Thursday evening and Friday morning, ending at 4.13 a.m. with an understandably careful winding-up speech by my hon. Friend the Minister of State.

At precisely that time, and unknown to us, the printing presses of the Daily Record were churning out the details of plans, alleged to have been developed in the Cabinet Office, purporting to come from Government sources, for, among other things, a Scottish Cabinet system, for a Scottish Prime Minister, for so-called US-style decision-making congressional committees, and for an Assembly in Edinburgh, with powers of direct or indirect taxation, not to mention the assertion that the Scottish Assembly would have powers over the Scottish Development Agency and trade and industry in a year's time.

The issue is important, as described in the Daily Record, in that, if such plans were to go ahead, we should be on the road which leads inevitably to the break-up of the United Kingdom.

The issue is urgent, in that once such ideas become embodied in White Papers and Queen's Speeches, it is more difficult for Governments to drop them without becoming involved in the kind of morass that we had during the passage of the Parliament (No. 2) Bill on reform of the House of Lords.

The issue is definite, in that a Government whose Attorney-General takes out an injunction, rightly or wrongly, against The Times Newspapers, against Mrs. Crossman and Jonathan Cape Limited, concerning Cabinet events of 10 long years ago, has an obligation to do something about what appears to be a massive leak, thought out and designed to achieve certain political purposes, on a delicate issue which is both topical and controversial.

If a positive Government denial is not forthcoming—and I very much hope that it will be, although I understand the nature of the business in the next three days—I ask, Mr. Speaker, that some of your own time, available on Thursday might be allowed for a return to the devolution issue, in the light of the new circumstances.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Robert Mellish)

Commenting on what my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) has said about what he read in a certain newspaper—apparently taking it for gospel that it must be true—it might be helpful if I observe that I will undertake to ensure that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will make a statement tomorrow.

Mr. Speaker

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. I am not quite certain whether his statement pre-empts my decision. The hon. Gentleman gave me appropriate notice and he put his points clearly, as usual. They are important points. It is not for me to pronounce on the merits. No doubt the matter will be pursued in other ways—there are a number of ways open—at some time. I am afraid that the answer under Standing Order No. 9 is "No".


Mr. Donald Stewart

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. With reference to the remarks made just now by the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) about the Consolidated Fund Bill debate on devolution which pre-empted certain other debates, may I point out that none of my hon. Friends spoke for anything like the length of time for which the hon. Member himself spoke—or, for that matter, for the length of time for which the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) spoke?

Mr. Speaker

I read that speech and the number of interruptions to it.