HC Deb 24 February 1977 vol 926 cc1629-31
Q3. Mr. Canavan

asked the Prime Minister what subjects he proposes to discuss at his next meeting with the TUC.

The Prime Minister

I refer my hon. Friend to the reply that I gave him on 25th January.

Mr. Canavan

Despite the guillotine motion being defeated on Tuesday night, will my right hon. Friend reaffirm the Government's commitment on devolution to the TUC, the STUC and the Labour Party, who are all in favour of devolution? In order to speed the passage of the Bill, will he consider holding an early referendum rather than the half-baked idea of an all-party constitutional conference attended by a motley rag-bag of Right wing reactionary Tories who have no policy on devolution, "phoney" Home-Rule Liberals, who helped to sell Scotland down the river on Tuesday night, and nationalist extremists, who do not know the difference between devolution and separatism?

The Prime Minister

The Government stand firm by the principle of devolution. We believe that it is essential, both in the interests of the good government of the United Kingdom and to preserve the unity of the United Kingdom. We also believe that it could best be achieved by means of an elected legislative Assembly in Scotland. Therefore, we reckon that the Bill that we presented, which was very carefully prepared over a number of years and in which probably every point that was raised in this House had been considered, would have met the situation. However, we face the decision that was reached by the House not to speed its passage. My right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council will make a statement on the subject at the end of business questions.

Mr. Donald Stewart

Is the Prime Minister aware of the statement issued by the Chairman of the Scottish TUC, in which he said that the majority of Scottish trade unionists would be stunned and saddened by the developments on Tuesday night? Will he therefore seek an early meeting with the chairman to discuss the situation?

The Prime Minister

I or my right hon. Friend will be happy to meet those who have observations to make. The right hon. Gentleman has asked for a meeting with me this evening, which I shall be very glad to have. The leaders of Plaid Cymru, at their request, will also be having a meeting with me. I shall be very happy to listen to what they have to say.

Mr. Madden

Does my right hon. Friend agree that anybody who is anxious to know the official Opposition's position on devolution would be sadly disappointed by the right hon. Lady's replies to four straight questions put to her on ITN last night? Does he agree that on this matter the right hon. Lady seems to be adopting a most seductive pose in trying to be all things to all men?

The Prime Minister

I did in fact follow what the right hon. Lady said last night. Unlike my hon. Friend, I got a very clear impression of her attitude. It is to avoid giving any responses or clear answers to anybody on this question at any time.

Mr. Patrick Mayhew

Remembering that at the General Election the Labour Party used the figures for the last quarter to claim that inflation was then running at 8.4 per cent., will the Prime Minister on the same basis be telling the TUC that it is now running at 23.4 per cent?

The Prime Minister

I am glad that the TUC is much better informed of economic matters than is the hon. Gentleman. I shall certainly be happy to give the latest figure on these matters which was issued at 2.30 this afternoon. That shows that capital expenditure has risen between the third and fourth quarters by 2 per cent.

Mr. George Grant

No doubt in the Prime Minister's forthcoming talks with the TUC the question of the social contract will be predominant. Does my right hon. Friend accept that many sections of the British Press are acting irresponsibly in inciting workers against the social contract? I have no reason to tell my right hon. Friend how to suck eggs, but will he tell the TUC that the best way to advise workers about the importance of the social contract is to remind them of the situation before Labour came into office—the three-day working week, bounding inflation, and so on?

The Prime Minister

Yes, my hon. Friend is absolutely correct. The best way by which we can build a just society is not by having a free-for-all in wages next year. There must obviously be greater flexibility, because of the compression that has taken place in differentials, but the social contract, as such, must be sustained and maintained as the best hope both of reducing unemployment and of overcoming inflation.

Mr. Prior

Will the Prime Minister also remind the TUC and the country that the Labour Party won the 1974 General Election on the slogan "Back to work with Labour"? What does he think about that now?

The Prime Minister

I well remember the slogan, because I used it in the first broadcast in that election. The right hon. Gentleman will remember that it was at a time when there was a black-out in the Chamber, when the miners were out on strike. and when the whole of Britain was on a three-day working week. That was the difference.