HC Deb 11 December 1975 vol 902 cc649-51
Q5. Mr. David Steel

asked the Prime Minister how many visits he has made to Scotland in the last 12 months.

The Prime Minister

I have visited Scotland on six occasions in the last year, Sir.

Mr. Steel

The Prime Minister will recall that a fortnight ago he disparaged my initial reactions to the White Paper on devolution. Does he accept that every newspaper in Scotland, whatever its political viewpoint, has fundamentally criticised the White Paper? Will he now enter into detailed—[HON. MEMBERS: "The Daily Record".] I said every newspaper in Scotland, regardless of its political viewpoint. I am not aware that the Daily Record is a Tory newspaper. Every newspaper in Scotland, regardless of its political standpoint, has criticised the White Paper. Will the Prime Minister now enter into serious discussions between the parties before publication of the Bill on how best to improve the White Paper?

The Prime Minister

The House, as I do, always takes full account of the advice that we get from newspapers, whether north or south of the border. These important constitutional issues are for right hon. and hon. Members elected to this House to decide in the last resort. My right hon. Friends and I have answered a number of questions on this matter.

I am sorry if the hon. Gentleman was a little nettled by what I said in answer to a previous Question. I think I used the word "squalor"—I agree that it was a bit rough—about the fact that, not for the first time, the Liberals voted with the Conservatives. I am still looking at this Christmastide for an appropriate word to describe what we read in the Press this morning—namely, that the Liberal Party Whips, the Scottish National Party Whips, and all the rest are meeting the Tory Whips. God help them.

Q6. Mr. Radice

asked the Prime Minister if he will pay an official visit to Sweden.

The Prime Minister

I did so last July, but I have at present no plans for a further visit. I met the Swedish Foreign Minister here last week.

Mr. Radice

When my right hon Friend visits Sweden, will he examine how the Swedes have managed, under successive Labour Governments, to combine a high and rising level of public expenditure with an expanding economy? Does he agree that we have much to learn from Swedish labour market policies, particularly in training and retraining, and that shortages and ineffective deployment of skilled manpower remain among the chief obstacles in the way of successfully expanding the British economy?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir. I believe that the Swedes lead Europe on the subject of retraining. I have had the opportunity of discussing the matter many times with Prime Minister Erlander and Prime Minister Palme. The Swedes provide far more resources and facilities for training than almost any other country. The importance that we attach to this area is shown by the fact that, despite present constraints on public expenditure and demands from other people that we should cut public expenditure to ribbons, we have made extra funds available to the Manpower Services Commission for training and retraining no fewer than three times this year, making a total of about £ 70 million. I agree that that is nothing like what the Swedes do, but it is very important in assisting training. It is providing about 45,000 additional training places, over three-quarters of them for young people.

Mr. Maurice Macmillan

Will the Prime Minister consider that the happy situation which his hon. Friend described might have something to do with the fact that the marginal rate of taxation of income and wealth tax combined in Sweden is lower than the marginal rate of taxation on incomes alone in this country?

The Prime Minister

I welcome that intervention. Sitting as he does below the Gangway, the right hon. Gentleman may tell the House something which his Front Bench has not told us—which expenditure the Conservatives would cut in order to cut taxation.