HC Deb 06 July 1971 vol 820 cc1125-7
Q5. Mr. William Hamilton

asked the Prime Minister if he will initiate inquiries into the number of occasions in the last 12 months on which Departmental Ministers have refused to meet hon. Members leading deputations of their constituents on matters of urgent concern for which Her Majesty's Government are responsible.

The Prime Minister

No, Sir. My right hon. and hon. Friends receive large numbers of such deputations, but it is for the individual Minister to decide whether or not he should receive a particular deputation.

Mr. Hamilton

Is the Prime Minister aware of the experiment, unique in the United Kingdom, going on in Glenrothes New Town in Fife in so far as employers, representatives of the trade unions, the Development Corporation itself, and the Member of Parliament are undertaking quarterly meetings to discuss the economic problems of the new town, and that the last meeting unanimously agreed that representations should be made asking the Secretary of State to receive a deputation to discuss these matters and that it was led by myself and that the Secretary of State refused? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that it was only after further representations that the Under-Secretary of State suddenly found that he had a date in August when he might be in Glenrothes, and that that is why the meeting has been arranged? Will the right hon. Gentleman undertake to issue an instruction to all his Ministers that when Members of this House ask to meet Ministers all efforts should be made to accede to such a request?

The Prime Minister

It is not necessary for me to issue instructions to that effect because my colleagues make every effort to meet deputations led by Members of the House. I am not prepared to issue an instruction saying that every request so made must be met, but Ministers try to meet them. I realise the importance of the experiment in Glenrothes which the hon. Member has described. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland has been fully informed about it both by the Corporation and by the hon. Member. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary for Development, Scottish Office has offered to meet them on 17th August, and I have no doubt that the hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) will reply as soon as he thinks it appropriate.

Mr. Ross

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is very much concern about unemployment in Scotland and that there is a feeling, rightly or wrongly, that there is a growing unwillingness in the Scottish Office to meet delegations? I have had occasion myself, in respect of unemployment, to lead a deputation from Kilmarnock and the Irvine Valley towns and was refused.

The Prime Minister

I do not think the right hon. Gentleman is being quite fair in that accusation because my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has met many deputations. As for those organisations which are representative of Scotland as a whole, and the major cities, I have always been prepared to meet them myself. The right hon. Gentleman will know that I received the Scottish T.U.C., and. more recently, the Lord Provost of Glasgow and his colleagues, who asked to see me, and also the shop stewards at U.C.S. who came asking to see me. I think that, on reflection, the right hon. Gentleman will feel that his statement was not entirely fair.

Mr. Swain

Is the Prime Minister aware that very often when hon. Members are successful in getting meetings with Ministers they are referred to junior Ministers, and that junior Ministers, however sympathetic they may be to the case made out, are unable to make a decision because of their lack of authority, the result being that the Minister in charge has to make a decision without hearing the case?

The Prime Minister

I do not think I can accept that, either. One of the developments in government of the last 10 or 15 years has been that junior Ministers have had specific tasks allocated to them. Administrations of both parties have found it impossible to continue government, especially with the large Departments now being created, if only one Minister at the top has to see everyone, answer every question at every debate in the House, and deal with every single issue. I though it was the general wish that Ministers other than Secretaries of State should have specific responsibilities and be able to deal directly with hon. Members.

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