HC Deb 25 November 1975 vol 901 cc662-6
Q2. Mr. Dalyell

asked the Prime Minister when he next hopes to visit Scotland.

The Prime Minister

As the House knows, I was in Scotland on 3rd November to attend the ceremony to mark the inauguration of BP's Forties Field, but I have no plans for a further visit this year.

Mr. Dalyell

Will the Prime Minister apply all his powers of scepticism to the recent over-simplistic approach of certain polls purporting to give the views of the Scottish people? Does he agree that if we are asked in the vaguest terms whether we want more say in our own affairs, we naturally say "Yes"? Does he agree that if one of the real questions is put—namely, do we want to pay more rates and taxes for yet another centralised bureaucracy in Edinburgh—the answer may be different?

The Prime Minister


Mr. Thorpe

If the Prime Minister has no plans to visit Scotland, will he at least satisfy the curiosity of people in Scotland, and indeed those outside, on the question whether it is a fact that television commentators and newspaper reporters this morning received copies of the report on devolution? Is it not incredible that on Thursday night hon. Members in all parts of the House will be asked to make an instant judgment on a highly complicated document, which the Press and the media have been able to study in depth?

The Prime Minister

I shall inquire into what the right hon. Gentleman said. I do not know the answer. It is a serious question. There is the question of the rule on confidential early revises, which has been in force for many years, under successive Governments. I have sometimes been critical of it, for the reason mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman. I shall inquire into it, as I know that there is concern in the House about it—not least because some of these revises find their way into the hands of some hon. Members and not others, which creates unfairness and inequity.

Mr. Donald Stewart

Does the Prime Minister accept that the worst advice that he could take is that of the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell), who is out of step with the Labour Party—which is out of step with Scottish opinion? Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us what will be his alibi on his next visit to Scotland for the sell-out of his promise on a devolution Bill?

The Prime Minister

Yes, I shall do that without even asking for the hon. Gentleman's alibi for voting with the Conservatives tonight. That will take some explaining in Scotland.

There has been no sell-out on devolution. The White Paper will be published on Thursday. The House will have the opportunity of an early debate on it, especially by those who, as a result of their study of it, form views, but who did not have preconceived notions before they had even read it. We want the House to have that debate. We also want a great national debate in Scotland, in Wales, in England—in Britain as a whole. We want a full debate. We propose to introduce in this Session a Bill which reflects our decisions in the light of that debate. I hope that we can make some progress with it. I cannot be certain. The progress we make depends on the House. But we intend at the beginning of next Session to introduce a Bill and see that it becomes law.

Mr. Gourlay

Is the Prime Minister aware that his words in last Thursday's debate about devolution created a great deal of disappointment among Labour Party members and other parts of the electorate in Scotland? Will he therefore make an early visit to Scotland to announce the date of the elections for the Assembly?

The Prime Minister

No, Sir. That does not arise. I understand that there was a productive and fruitful meeting between my right hon. Friend and hon. Friends in Glasgow last Saturday, which dealt with the whole question of the timetable. I do not believe that the people of Scotland, or the members of the Labour Party in Scotland, want to see the matter rushed without proper consultation with them, so that they can express a view on what will be a full and complicated White Paper. Nor would they wish to deny to the people of Wales or England the right to express their views on this. We shall at the earliest possible moment, with no avoidable delay, introduce the legislation. I hope that it will be debated this Session. We hope, with the good will of the House, that it will become law in the next parliamentary Session.

Mr. Monro

Is the Prime Minister aware that in the County of Dumfries unemployment has doubled in the past 13 months of Socialism? What steps will the right hon. Gentleman take, other than to issue platitudes from Chequers? Is he aware that, so far, unfortunately, his scheme to help school leavers has had no practical effect, and seems unlikely to have an effect in the next few months?

The Prime Minister

The downward phase in the cycle began under the Conservative Government even before we felt the effect of increased oil prices on this country. The hon. Gentleman knows what is happening all over the advanced industrial word in exactly the same degree. [HON. MEMBERS: "It is 8.4 per cent."] The hon. Gentleman referred to unemployment. The figure is nothing like 8.4 per cent. In Germany the increase is a great deal more. The Opposition will be interested to know that the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate in Scotland, expressed as a percentage of the Great Britain rate, which was 157 per cent. when we took office, has now fallen to 122 per cent.

Mr. Buchan

When my right hon. Friend visits Scotland, will be consider paying a visit to Linwood, so that the workers can thank him for saving the jobs of those at present employed in the Chrysler organisation in Linwood and the Midlands? In the meantime, will he take steps to ensure that warm welcome?

The Prime Minister

The whole House appreciates the deep concern of my hon. Friend and of other hon. Members on both sides of the House. We have a long way to go in the negotiations before anyone can hope to save any part of the Chrysler empire, in view of the negotiations with which we have been presented. We are striving might and main to save the whole operation, if that is possible, and certainly to save Linwood, because of the high level of unemployment there. There are powerful difficulties in concentrating production on one area. [Interruption.] That would not be the answer, because this is a heavy loss-making sector of the motor car industry, which suffers because no new models have been produced for many years. It will be a very costly operation. It would not help for me to go further in this direction, except to say that I regard it as imperative that Mr. Riccardo returns to this country tomorrow to hear the result of the Government's consideration of these matters.

Mr. Whitelaw

Does the Prime Minister accept that we on the Conservative Benches believe that he is right to have a major debate on the whole devolution prospect, and that there should be a long and proper debate on the whole issue? Does he appreciate that during that debate two tests will be applied to the Government's proposals, as put forward on Thursday? The first is whether they will ensure the unity of the United Kingdom in the future or will lead to its disruption. The second is whether they will lead to more attractive and more efficient government for people in all parts of the United Kingdom. Will those two tests be met by the Government's proposals?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir. I thank the right hon. Gentleman for what he said in welcoming the great debate, which is extremely helpful. I felt that he did better than I did in dealing with his hon. Friend who was talking of weeks rather than months. This is a very important subject, which must be fully examined. The unity of the United Kingdom is the whole essence and inspiration of the White Paper, as the right hon. Gentleman will discover. On the question whether it provides effective and efficient organisation in the interests of all the people who are governed within these islands—

Mr. Gordon Wilson

What about Scotland?

The Prime Minister

Scotland is part of one of these islands. I knew that the hon. Gentleman did not know history; it is about time he learnt geography. I thought that Scotland was within these islands. There are the Orkneys and Shetlands, which cause trouble to certain hon. Gentlemen.

Dealing with the much more serious question—not the interruption—it will be for the House to decide, when it sees the White Paper, whether the criteria set out by the right hon. Gentlemen are met. I hope that they are. The White Paper is based on the unity of our country, with a maximum possible devolution of control over their own affairs to Scotland and Wales.