HC Deb 13 March 1975 vol 888 cc798-803
Q2. Mr. Mike Thomas

asked the Prime Minister whether he will make a statement on his 1st March visit to Glasgow.

Q3. Mr. Grocott

asked the Prime Minister whether he will make a statement on his visit to Glasgow on 1st March.

The Prime Minister

I refer my hon. Friends to the reply which my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council gave on my behalf to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor) on 11th March.

Mr. Thomas

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many of the older industrial areas in England—notably the North-East, which I represent, together with my hon. Friends—are much poorer than most parts of Scotland? Did my right hon. Friend believe, after his visit to Glasgow, that the Scottish people as a whole shared the selfish views of some Opposition Members that the oil revenues should be used for Scotland alone?

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend may remember that in my Edinburgh speech of a couple of years ago, made in Leith, I said that I thought that a great part of the benefit of the oil revenues—from whatever part of the United Kingdom the oil might come, including the Celtic Sea—should go particularly to help those areas which were in the first Industrial Revolution and which have suffered from industrial decline. The STUC has made clear its view that the revenues from the North Sea, which will be secured by the tax and participation arrangements announced by the Government, should be used for the benefit of the areas which bear the scars of the Industrial Revolution, not only in Scotland but in the North-East and other areas of the United Kingdom.

Mr. Tapsell

Did the Prime Minister note the difference between the somewhat tepid reception he received in Glasgow and the tumultuous enthusiasm with which my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition was received on her visit to Scotland?

The Prime Minister

No, Sir, but experienced Press men with some statistical abilities found that there were many, many more outside when I opened the exhibition in Glasgow—most of them cheering, except for a few militant students whom the right hon. Lady never encouraged, anyway, so she would not have expected them. But for the hundreds that she had, I had thousands, and I did not invoke any party card-carrying members to turn out.

Mr. Grocott

Does my right hon. Friend agree that any feeling that may exist in Scotland or Wales for a greater devolution of powers from Westminster is not all that different in kind from the feeling that exists in many English regions that there should be greater devolution? Does he further agree that there is a very strong constitutional case for treating all parts of the United Kingdom in a similar way in any pattern of devolution that may be devised?

The Prime Minister

My right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council, in the debate on devolution, made clear the fact that there would be discussions with the English regions, following up what has been said so far in respect of Scotland and Wales. However, whereas it is true that Scotland will have a Scottish development agency and Wales has the Welsh Development Agency, my hon. Friend will be aware of the powers and activities—entirely benevolent activities—of the National Enterprise Board, south of the border as well as north of it.

Mr. Teddy Taylor

Is the Prime Minister aware that despite his visit the people of Glasgow feel shamefully neglected because during his visit neither he nor his Ministers came to see for themselves the extreme hardship being suffered by the people—hardship which has resulted from an unprecedented wave of strikes resulting in the accumulation of masses of rubbish? Will he now send a team of Ministers to look at the two latest emergencies in Glasgow, namely, the picketing of the rubbish incinerators and the breakdown of maintenance in the multi-storey flats in the city?

The Prime Minister

What the hon. Member says is not true—

Mrs. Winifred Ewing

Come and see for yourself.

The Prime Minister

I did see it for myself in Glasgow.—[HON. MEMBERS: "Rubbish."] The hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor) was talking rubbish when he said—I am sure it was inadvertently—that my colleagues who visited Scotland—and there was never a visit like that from the Conservative Party when it was in Government—

Mrs. Ewing

They are all coming now.

The Prime Minister

I started in 1947, when the hon. Lady was still at school. Perhaps I may be allowed to refer to the hon. Member's supplementary question. He was talking nonsense when he referred to my right hon. Friends—my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, who was there and who has considered this question on a number of occasions; my hon. Friend the Minister of State, who spent a lot of time on this question; and my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council, who made a tour of these areas. I also saw them for myself.

With regard to the serious problem which the hon. Gentleman has quite fairly raised, after what he said in error, he will know that there is to be a meeting tomorrow, at which everyone, particularly in Glasgow, will hope that the trouble will come to an end. But my right hon. Friend is in close touch with the matter and will make a statement to the House at the earliest possible moment, as that becomes necessary.

Mr. Sillars

What weight does my right hon. Friend attach to the Scottish TUC's paper on devolution, in which it argues very strongly that the Scottish Assembly should have economic powers?

The Prime Minister

The Scottish TUC presented five papers which we were able to study. We thought that the devolution paper, in the main, followed very closely on the lines taken in our pronouncements, in our White Paper and in the statement of my right hon. Friend in the House. What struck me particularly about devolution in relation to the STUC was that the STUC was absolutely clear that while it wanted the maximum possible degree of effective devolution, it was totally opposed—I think it was talking for the majority of the people of Scotland—to separatism.

Mr. Thorpe

As the right hon. Gentleman has mentioned devolution and as the Government have rejected, I think, one unanimous recommendation of Kilbrandon, namely that the elections to the Assembly should be by proportional representation, what would be the right hon. Gentleman's reaction to having a referendum on this matter to see whether or not it would enjoy the full-hearted support of the people of Scotland and Wales?

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Gentleman, I know, supports this principle, and I know what was in Kilbrandon. But this matter has been dealt with in the debate on devolution. There will be many more debates on devolution, as well as legislation. The right hon. Gentleman will have his opportunity of testing the feeling of the House upon it.

Mr. Reid

Will the Prime Minister confirm that the Government are still pressing ahead with all possible speed for the establishment of a Scots Assembly, that that process will not be slowed down in any way by consideration of devolution for the English provinces, and that an Assembly Bill will be introduced before the end of the year?

The Prime Minister

The answer to the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question is "Yes, Sir". The answer to the second part is "Yes, Sir". The answer to the third part was given by my right hon. Friend in the debate on devolution. We are proceeding with all possible speed but I cannot at this stage announce a timetable, any more than my right hon. Friend could do a month ago.

Mr. Dalyell

Are we to have a White Paper? If not, why not?

The Prime Minister

As my right hon. Friend explained in the debate—I answered this question of my hon. Friend only last week—we are considering this matter.

Mr. Whitelaw

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for the fact that he is considering the matter of a White Paper. I hope that he will realise, as I am convinced most right hon. and hon. Members do, that when we are considering devolution, we are engaged in a major constitutional change in the whole position of the United Kingdom. If we are to do that, it is very important that the House should be consulted and should have the fullest information before it comes to any decision—and that means not only Members from Scotland and Wales but Members from the whole of the United Kingdom. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will bear that matter in mind.

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir. In saying that, the right hon. Gentleman was echoing what he said in the speech, part of which I heard, when he began by making that point. Whatever view he has of machinery or procedures, every hon. Member agrees that this is a fundamental change concerning the future of the United Kingdom. Many hon. Members— and I support this, as did my right hon. Friend—recognise that it has grave implications for England as well as for Scotland and Wales.