Skip to main content

Commons Chamber

Volume 884: debated on Thursday 23 January 1975

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

House Of Commons

Thursday 23rd January 1975

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Oral Answers To Questions

Agriculture, Fisheries And Food

Fishing Industry


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether he has completed his consideration of the case for a temporary operating subsidy or fuel subsidy for the fishing industry; and whether he will make a statement.


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what action the Government are taking concerning the present position in the fishing industry, especially in relation to increased costs of operation.


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether he can now make a statement regarding the extent of financial aid in the form of subsidies that he intends to give to the fishing industry.

As I informed the House as recently as 16th January—[Vol. 884, c. 667]—the Government are actively considering the question of aid for the fishing industry. I shall make a statement as soon as possible.

Does the hon. Gentleman realise that his statement is anxiously awaited, that as time elapses the catching capacity of the fishing industry is being reduced by vessels being sold or laid up and that the situation with fuel costs and gear costs is getting worse and not improving?

I appreciate that need for an urgent decision, but the claim for the resumption of the subsidy, largely due to fuel cost increases, which is a national problem, raises many difficult questions. We are dealing with this as quickly as possible but further inquiries have had to be made. We shall certainly bear in mind the hon. Gentleman's anxiety.

One accepts that this excellent Government need time to make a decision which is wise and helpful for the industry, but will my hon. Friend bear in mind that the old system of operating costs per day worked well, was accepted by the industry and, I believe, will be welcomed back if and when he makes his decision?

Yes. My hon. Friend will know that operating subsidies were available for fishing vessels until the end of July 1973, by which time the general profitability of the fleet made subsidies unnecessary. However, I shall certainly take note of his point in the context of the other aspects which must be urgently considered at this time.

In considering these matters of subsidy, will the Government bear in mind that far more important for the future of the fishing industry is the preservation of the fishing grounds by proper extension of this country's limits?

I certainly welcome the emphasis that the right hon. Gentleman places on that matter. We are urgently considering these aspects and others against the background of the Law of the Sea Conference and quotas and other discussions which are now taking place.

Will the Government accept that these answers are not good enough? We have known for months that this situation would develop at the turn of the year, yet nothing is ready and organised to help the fishermen. Will the hon. Gentleman take urgent action and try to give us a report within the next two or three weeks?

I certainly appreciate the hon. Member's concern. Although we can use the data available to deduce whether the fleet as a whole or significant elements of it are operating successfully, there are other questions of judgment that the Government must consider, including how long the developing situation might last, the consequences and whether intervention is justified in certain respects in the national interest. But I share the hon. Gentleman's anxiety.

British Poultry Federation


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what plans he has to meet representatives of the British Poultry Federation.

I met representatives of the British Poultry Federation on 17th December and further meetings are to take place between representatives of the federation and officials of my Department.

Although I appreciate the charm and authority of the hon. Gentleman, I. am sure he realises that the Minister is the person to whom this Question was directed and that the federation would be grateful if he could see his way to meeting it, particularly in the light of the considerable hardships that the industry is now facing, not least on account of the vagaries of the workings of the common agricultural policy, which is presenting the prospect of unfair competition in eggs from France and in poultry meat from Holland and Denmark. Will the hon. Gentleman convey to his right hon. Friend the real appreciation that there would be if he would see a delegation himself?

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's concern, but because of my right hon. Friend's many other engagements at home and in Europe, and because he did not wish the meeting with the federation to be held up, he asked me to meet it and to keep him informed of the discussions. At the moment our officials are in touch with the federation. I have only just come from an excellent occasion at the Savoy, when I was able to present the European Egg Marketing Trophy Award. I was also able once more to assure the industry of our concern, quite apart from the fact that one of the biggest poultry farms in the country is in my constituency. I will bear the hon. Gentleman's points in mind.

Will the Minister assure us that he will have these consultations in the context of discussions in relation to the price review and take fully into account in the context of the review the representations of the federation?

There is no United Kingdom guarantee scheme for eggs or poultry meat. The federation has every opportunity of making its views known about the price review and developments in those areas known to the Ministry. We shall take into account all the observations made to me direct and to my right hon. Friend.

Tied Cottages


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what representations he has had from farmers and farming organisations on the subject of tied cottages; and whether he will make a statement.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food
(Mr. Gavin Strang)

The National Union of Agricultural and Allied Workers has urged upon my right hon. Friend the need for early action to implement the Government's pledge to abolish the tied cottage system in agriculture. He has also received representations from the National Farmers' Union, the Country Landowners' Association and from some farmers expressing concern about the Government's intentions here.

May I inform the Minister that the farmers in my constituency—[Hon. Members: "Question."]

Order. The hon. Member may not "inform" the Minister of anything at Question Time.

Is the Minister aware that I and farmers in my constituency are extremely concerned about the Government's intentions in this matter? This is a very complex issue which has ramifications going far beyond agriculture and involves tied accommodation in many other sectors. Before action of any kind is contemplated, will the Government consider setting up a full-scale independent inquiry of a fact-finding nature into this matter, perhaps along the lines of the O'Brien Committee, whose report the House approved last week despite the fact that the Minister was so shamefully deserted by many of his Cabinet colleagues?

No, I should be against an independent inquiry. We are concerned specifically with the issue of the agricultural tied cottage. I acknowledge that some farmers are concerned about some of the implications of this reform, and we shall be having discussions with the NFU. I would hope, however, that the hon. Gentleman would also listen to the views of the agricultural workers in his constituency on this issue.

Does my hon. Friend accept that the tied cottage system has been an intolerable burden on farm workers and their families? [HON. MEMBERS: "Rubbish."]. This is an important part of the Labour Party's election promise and should be implemented as quickly as possible.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. There is tremendous strength of feeling on this issue within the National Union of Agricultural and Allied Workers. The Government intend to fulfil the pledge they gave in two manifestos last year.

Is the Minister aware that the continuation of the tied cottage system is most important, particularly for farmers in the dairy industry? Is he also aware that I represent a fair number of dairy farmers in my constituency and that I have never had one complaint from any agricultural worker about the tied cottage system? Will he tell the House what is the difference, if there be one in kind, between the tied cottage for the agricultural worker and the tied cottage for the headmaster, the tied cottage for the policeman or the tied cottage for the railway employee?

I cannot really accept that in practice a headmaster is in a similar position to a farm worker on this issue. But I acknowledge that when we come to implement this reform we must look at all aspects, including the question of dairy farming and farming in remote areas.

Horticulture (Glasshouse Section)


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what recent consultations he has had with the NFU about the problem of glasshouse growers.


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what further representations he has received from the NFU regarding the glasshouse sector; and what reply he has sent.

My right hon. Friend has discussed the glasshouse sector on several recent occasions with representatives of the NFU who have also met officials. The most recent discussions took place on Friday last in the context of the annual review.

Is the Minister aware that I am grateful to him for receiving my hon. Friend the Member for Worcestershire, South (Mr. Spicer) and myself last week to discuss the problems of this sector? Is he aware that the main problem facing glasshouse growers is the critical one of the cost of fuel oil, in which context they are in a very special position? When does he expect to be able to make a statement about whether the subsidy which existed until the end of last year will be continued until June?

I agree that this is an important question. As I indicated to the hon. Gentleman when we met, the Government are considering this most urgently, and we shall announce our decision in the very near future.

Is my hon. Friend aware that the horticulture section of the Scottish NFU has persuaded some of us that unless help is given there will be bankruptcies in the Clyde Valley and elsewhere in Scotland?

I would agree with my hon. Friend that this is a matter of extreme importance to horticulture producers, particularly to many in the Clyde Valley who are going through a very difficult time.

What has changed since the oil subsidy was first granted and then removed, except that oil prices have increased several times?

I do not think that is a very helpful point—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—if only because it is so fatuous. The fact is that the Government are giving this matter serious consideration. But I am sure that even the hon. Gentleman would accept that the question of the subsidisation of oil imports is one which must be decided in the widest context.

What is the reason for the delay in the Government's decision? Does the Minister agree that the European Community is disposed to be helpful on this matter? Will any decision, to which he has just referred, be back-dated, perhaps to the beginning of the year?

I can confirm that there is no obstacle from the European Community to extending this subsidy, but I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman would expect me to talk of the possibility of back-dating before we have announced our decision in principle on this matter.



asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a further statement about sugar supplies.


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what, in the light of recent statements by the Jamaican Trade Minister concerning the continuation of Commonwealth sugar supplies to Great Britain in the next few months, is his forecast of the likely shortfall of sugar supplies in the coming year.


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement concerning future deliveries of raw cane sugar to the United Kingdom port sugar refineries.

Unfortunately it has not yet been possible to reach agreement with the developing Commonwealth countries on the price to be paid for their sugar in 1975. Meanwhile our requirements are being met from our domestic beet crop, imports from the Continent and imports from the world market under the EEC import subsidy arrangements. I am glad to say that the EEC Council of Agricultural Ministers has just agreed to extend this scheme to a further 300,000 tons.

May I press the Minister to tell us a little more about the apparent breakdown in his negotiations with Commonwealth suppliers? Will he say whether this has anything to do with the price he is prepared to offer? Will he also say whether there is any probability of Guyana offering her crop at the price he is apparently prepared to pay, and whether supplies for this country this year are in any sense guaranteed?

On the negotiations with ACP countries, which are fundamental to the hon. Gentleman's question, the talks have not broken down. We shall be pursuing talks with the ACP countries. I announced an offer of £250 cif. I believe that what we offered is reasonable. I hope we shall succeed in getting an agreement.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that if we had been able to conduct these negotiations a year ago the prospects for everyone might have been a great deal better? Will he also tell us something about the deliveries of raw sugar to port refineries from the beet factories? Does he agree that unless these can be continued as they have been in the past, the prospects for employment, irrespective of cane, will be difficult in those refineries, and that the answer given by my hon. Friend the Minister of State to a Written Question some time ago is not reassuring on this matter?

I hope that my hon. Friend will not be too pessimistic. After all, we renegotiated the ACP countries' long-term agreement with the Community, which is a very good agreement, very similar to the old Commonwealth Sugar Agreement, with guaranteed access for 1·4 million tons. All I am saying is that we are still negotiating. I do not want to prejudice negotiations, and I do not think that any hon. Member would want me to say anything which could harm negotiating stances. All I can say is that we are well aware of the problem of the refiners.

Does the Minister appreciate that whatever sugar supplies he may be able to obtain, and at whatever price, in rural communities sugar supplies de facto are not available since those who supply sugar cannot afford to take it to those who eat it, and those who eat it cannot afford to drive and get it from those who supply it?

That was an interesting conclusion to the hon. Member's speech. As the production Minister I am concerned to ensure that our talks with the ACP countries succeed.

Will the Minister say how much of the 300,000 tons is expected to come to the United Kingdom, and for how long that will secure our supplies? If the Minister had not been so dilatory last year we would not have the continuing uncertainty that we know today.

I am amazed at the right hon. Gentleman, especially in view of the great arguments about bankable assurances advanced by one of his colleagues. We have succeeded in negotiating a long-term agreement for the ACP countries. The Conservatives did not do that; we did. Perhaps I can give a specific example of the operation of the import subsidy scheme, which I agreed to and which was a good scheme, whereby we got subsidised sugar, with the subsidy provided by the Community. On the first tranche of 200,000 tons, 156,000 tons came to us. We have negotiated another tranche, but we are not the only deficit area. The other country concerned is Italy. I have every reason to believe that even the right hon. Gentleman will be satisfied with what I have secured.

Feeding Stuffs


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether he is satisfied with the operation of the emergency measures that he introduced in respect of assisting hill farmers with the fodder requirements for their stock; and what is the number of hill farmers in England and Wales that have taken advantage of this scheme and the number of cattle that have been moved to lowland farm locations.


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he is satisfied with the current supply position of animal feeding stuffs.

Supplies of cereal feed are adequate and prices have fallen. Fodder is short, although the carry-over stock in 1974 was higher than we had earlier estimated. The mild weather has helped, but some farmers, particularly in parts of Wales, continue to have serious shortages of roughage. About £12,500 has already been committed under the agistment scheme; 29 hill farmers have moved 830 cows to lowland farms. I am satisfied that the measures taken, particularly the substantially higher payments of beef cow, hill cow and hill sheep subsidy now being made, are helping with feed costs.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that, however well-intentioned the scheme may have been, it has not been a success? Does he accept that the immediate requirement of our hill farmers is both confidence and cash—cash to help them purchase their much-needed fodder and confidence to restore their faith that they have a future in the pattern of home-produced food?

I appreciate some of the points made by the hon. Member. Of course, the cost of food was one of the reasons why we introduced measures to increase the cash flow. Noticeable among these measures was the advancement of the hill and beef cow subsidy and higher hill sheep subsidies which accounted for more than £30 million. The hon. Member should not forget the other aspects of the comprehensive package introduced by my right hon. Friend. The hon. Member suggests that in the long run this is a matter of confidence, and I am hoping that in his discussions in Brussels my right hon. Friend will be able to achieve some of the assurances which we all need.

The Minister's comment about the mild weather was correct, but does he agree that in terms of supply and price the imports from the EEC have helped considerably over a difficult period?

I appreciate the hon. Member's feelings, but there are aspects of this matter which were mentioned by the hon. Member which have been delayed to some extent through requiring the agreement of the EEC. I know that the hon. Member's area of the South-West has had problems. I was there a fortnight ago speaking to an open meeting of the NFU at which I was able to hear more of the area's difficulties. In that area, as elsewhere, farmers are in touch with our officials who are advising them about the NFU's measures.

However well-intentioned this scheme, was it not entirely misconceived? Is the Minister aware that 830 cattle at £15 a head costs the Ministry just over £1,200 and that that is the only help from the Government to meet the fodder shortage? [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Yes it is. It is impossible for hill farmers to get valley farmers to take any interest in the scheme. They need direct help to enable them to buy fodder.

The hon. and learned Gentleman underestimates my right hon. Friend's intentions. When the situation was revealed as a result of a comprehensive survey we made—we had a straw poll—of the fodder situation, my right hon. Friend was anxious to introduce as many measures as possible. I appreciate that the agistment aspect is not as useful in some areas as in others, but the hon. and learned Gentleman should not overlook the fact that among other measures we decided to increase over six months by 7·7p per gallon the price for milk producers, a floor was put to beef producers' returns by a variable premium and there was an increase in the hill sheep subsidy, a doubling of the hill cow subsidy, advancement of the 1975 hill cow subsidy and other cash and credit measures. The hon. and learned Gentleman should look at the whole package, not just one part of it.

Does my hon. Friend agree that it was a former Labour Minister of Agriculture who introduced considerable help to hill farmers, particularly on the point of guaranteed prices? Does he agree that a system of guaranteed prices is far better than going cap in hand to the Common Market, which the Conservatives rushed us into a couple of years ago?

I am not sorry that my hon. Friend has caused a little discomfort among the Conservatives. It was the Labour Party which gave assurances and long-term confidence to agriculture over the years with the 1947 Act and subsequent measures. It was the ending of the fatstock guarantee scheme by the Conservatives and other aspects of entry into the EEC which removed the certainty. My right hon. Friend is busy trying to regain the assurances which were so much taken for granted when we were in power before.

Does the Minister recall that when this scheme was announced the announcement envisaged that 10,000 cattle would be moved to lower ground with the estimated expenditure of £150,000? Does he not, therefore, agree that the movement of only 830 cattle under the scheme shows what a miserable failure it has been? Is he aware that at this moment it is estimated that 1,000 cattle a week are being slaughtered in the West Country alone because of malnutrition? Will he take steps to improve the scheme?

Of course, the problem has not been as severe as might have been expected in the areas where the agistment scheme might have been helpful. We have taken all the steps that I have mentioned. In addition the O'Brien Report has been debated by Parliament, and the outcome there might help. In the long term it is a question of getting a good deal from the package now being negotiated in Brussels.

Mole Valley Flood Alleviation Scheme


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is the starting date for the Mole Valley flood alleviation scheme.

The Thames Water Authority was given approval in principle to carry out this scheme on 13th January. The matter is now in its hands.

Is the Minister aware that since Monday there has been an amber flood warning on the River Mole? The last time we had an amber warning there was considerable flooding, and people living in the areas are now getting very anxious. Will the Minister give an assurance that the disagreement over contributions will not delay the beginning of the scheme?

The resolution of the argument over contributions is a matter for the Thames Water Authority and the Surrey County Council. My Ministry has offered to give every help it can to try to resolve this matter because, like the hon. Member, we are anxious that the scheme should go ahead as soon as possible.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that when planning permission was sought on flood plains the former Thames Conservancy opposed building and on occasions was overruled by the decision of the inspector? If that was so, will my hon. Friend take steps, with the Secretary of State for the Environment, to see that such events do not recur?

I am not sure whether my hon. Friend is referring to this specific scheme.

My constituents have suffered bad flooding from the Rivers Mole, Wey and Bourne in recent years, and they are waiting anxiously for the Mole scheme starting date, because flood alleviation schemes for the Wey and Bourne depend on the commencement of that scheme.

I think I can fairly claim that I have kept the promises I gave the hon. Member for Esher (Mr. Mather) in the debate on the matter before Christmas. Any delay now will certainly not be the Ministry's responsibility.

Cattle And Sheep


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what are the numbers of cattle and sheep in Great Britain at the last available date; and what were the numbers at the same period two years and four years ago.

The number of cattle and calves in Great Britain in June 1974, the latest date for which full information is available, was 13,607,000; in June 1972, 12,040,000; and in June 1970, 11,261,000. The number of sheep and lambs in June 1974 was 27,703,000; in June 1972, 25,873,000; and in June 1970, 25,114,000.

I am grateful for that interesting information. Would my hon. Friend care to comment on the recently-expressed suspicions that the remarkable and sustained improvement in livestock quality over recent decades has not been maintained in the past two or three years?

Yes, Sir. We are aware of this and are taking the necessary steps to reverse the trend.

Will the Minister bear in mind that there will be a reduction in sheep and beef production if the Chancellor's tax proposals are continued and that agriculture will go into reverse? What representations is the Minister of Agriculture making to the Chancellor, who is destroying British agriculture in this way?

The matters that the hon. Gentleman has raised are matters for my right hon. Friend the Chancellor.

Does the Minister agree that until such time as we have a meat marketing board we shall have a succession of slumps and booms in the beef production industry?

That is the basis for another question. It is a matter for the industry as well as for us.

Food Prices


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food which foods are now being bought more cheaply from within the EEC than from elsewhere; and if he will publish the differences between current world prices and EEC prices for each commodity.

It is difficult to make direct comparisons of prices of foodstuffs from different national sources because of differences in quality, grading and presentations of products. Of our main temperate imports according to the latest available figures, supplies of wheat, rice, maize, sugar, bacon, lard, tomatoes and apples were available more cheaply from the EEC than from non-EEC sources. There is no easily identifiable world price for many commodities, but with permission I will publish in the Official Report a table showing cif values of our main temperate imports.

What would be the difference in the retail price index if we had to buy these commodities on the world market? Will my hon. Friend make sure that the information is given as much publicity as the distorted figures on the balance of trade deficit given recently by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade?

It is difficult to talk about the comparisons of prices on world markets, but I have no doubt that there will be no lack of volunteers to make the information known to those who they feel should have it.

Will the Minister remember, in attempting any answer to his hon. Friend's questions, that prices would have to be assessed as they would have been if we had renewed long-term arrangements which we abandoned as a result of a certain mistaken policy?



(£ per ton) E.E.C. Countries

Non-E.E.C. Countries

1. E.E.C. lower than non-E.E.C.
Rice, short grainedItaly161·75Australia190·53
Raw sugar, beet and caneFrance130·08Australia147·28
Refined sugarFrance185·55Poland383·50
Tomatoes, freshIrish Republic292·75Spain332·99
2. No significant difference
West Germany75·38South Africa72·08
Irish Republic669·41Poland701·75
3. Non-E.E.C. lower than E.E.C.
ButterFrance649·72New Zealand361·05
Cheddar type cheeseIrish Republic772·29New Zealand 312·05
LambIrish Republic483·78 (fresh)New Zealand478·84 (frozen)
BeefNo reliable comparison possible owning to ban on imports from non-E.E.C. countries.

Sources: Overseas Trade Statistics of the United Kingdom Customs and Excise Tabulation Sheets.



asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food how the future beef régime to be worked out in the EEC will be affected by the fact that there is no provision in the EEC price proposals for the continuation of the variable premium after February, but only for direct headage payment of thirty units of account.

As I said in the debate in the House on 16th January, I have put proposals to the EEC Council of Ministers for the inclusion of a variable premium scheme in the new beef régime. These proposals, together with other proposals for changes in the beef régime, were discussed by the Council at the meeting earlier this week, and the discussion will be resumed at the next meeting of the Council on 10th-11th February. In the meantime the current arrangements for

I do not think that the hon. and learned Gentleman needs an answer. He has made his observation clear.

Following is the information:

beef in the United Kingdom will continue throughout February.

Is the Minister aware of the fall in the price of cattle in the market which we have seen during the past few weeks and still see? I am convinced, and I am sure the right hon. Gentleman is aware, that it is because of the lack of confidence in a long-term bottom in the market. Therefore, farmers are bringing their stock half finished on to the market in order to get the headage payments before the end of February.

I well understand what the hon. Gentleman is saying, but I believe that it is right to try to negotiate a new long-term agreement for beef, and that is what I am doing. I believe that I have the complete support of the farmers' unions on the issue. I think that in the end that agreement will restore confidence.

Does the Minister appreciate that farmers are selling their cattle forward not only because of lack of confidence but because they do not have the money to buy fodder, and that the doubling of the beef premium is not assisting them to buy the fodder as the premium has not yet arrived in their pockets or banks?

I hope the hon. Lady will appreciate that to get the agreement approved by the Community in negotiations would be good for the industry. I also hope she will understand that the farmers want the agreement.

My hon. Friend the Minister of State answered the fodder question in reply to another Question. As the hon. Lady knows, I advanced the hill and beef cow subsidies.

Can the Minister give us some indication of the reasons why the Council of Ministers has been unable to come to a decision on the structure of the new beef régime?

We had two days of discussions, which are to be continued. I hope that we shall complete them, and then perhaps I shall be able to report to the House.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that he would be in a much stronger position to do all the things that Opposition Members seem to want him to do, and that the National Farmers' Union wants him to do, if he were a completely free agent and could act on behalf of the British Government and people without running cap in hand to the Common Market?

I do not go to the Community cap in hand. I have stated the position of the British Government, which is that we want an entirely new system to replace that which operates purely on the basis of permanent intervention. I am seeking to achieve that. My hon. Friend is right in saying that the Conservatives removed the guarantees.

The right hon. Gentleman knows that I do not accept that for one moment. Of course, we all hope for a thoroughly successful negotiation leading to a satisfactory and workable new beef régime, but, as the Ministers did not reach agreement earlier this week, will the right hon. Gentleman in February increase the steps of the variable premium in the way they have increased over recent months instead of continuing it at the same level as in January?

The right hon. Gentleman must allow me to negotiate in what I think to be the best way. I shall report to the House. There will still be hard negotiating, but I believe that we shall achieve a successful conclusion.

Food Supplies


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what foods are at present in short supply.

Does the Minister agree with the Meat and Livestock Commission's forecast that beef will be in short supply in 1976? If so, what does he intend to do about it?

There is considerable scope for argument about the level of supplies of beef as far into the future as the hon. Gentleman indicated. The Government are anxious that we should have a prosperous and viable beef industry. That is what my right hon. Friend is determined to achieve when he returns to Brussels.

Is my hon. Friend aware that world grain and maize prices have been falling for the past two weeks, that this month world wheat prices have fallen below the EEC level and that an EEC import levy on wheat is now in force? Further, is he aware that it is now true of grain, dairy products and wheat that all of them can be obtained more cheaply outside the EEC than inside?

I think that my right hon. Friend is perhaps being a little sweeping, but I agree with the basic point that the relationship between EEC prices and world prices is liable to considerable fluctuation throughout the years and that there is no saying what it will be in two years' time.

Has the Minister forgotten that what are now in short supply are butter and milk products from our home resources? Will he take every step to ensure that at the forthcoming price review adequate incentives will be given to dairy farmers to ensure that milk supplies increase so that we can restore the supply of butter and milk products to what it was not long ago?

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that my right hon. Friend is considering closely the position of the milk producer in the context of discussions prior to the annual review. I point out to the hon. Gentleman that if we are to remain a member of the Community we do not want a huge butter mountain.

Cattle Prices


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what estimate he has made of the effect that the removal of the ban on the export of live animals would have on the average market price received by producers for cattle in the United Kingdom.

No such estimate has been possible. Because there has been no trade in live cattle from this country since July 1973 it is difficult to judge the potential export demand for cattle now, especially as the supply situation in the Community and world markets has changed considerably during the last 18 months.

I thank the Minister for his reply. Does he accept that the National Farmers' Union and the British livestock industry are most grateful to him and to his right hon. Friend for accepting the O'Brien recommendations and to Parliament for lifting the ban on the export of live animals? Does he agree that there is increasing concern about the amount of payments due on any animals that are exported. For instance, on a beast of 10 cwt. going from the United Kingdom to Holland the amount due could be as much as £80.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his compliments, which are always welcome from the Opposition benches. The NFU amongst others is aware that live cattle face a 9·6 per cent. ad valorem duty on imports into the EEC countries. There are transitional and monetary compensatory charges and the precise level varies, as the hon. Gentleman suggests, according to destination and fluctuations in currency ex- change rates. It may be necessary to levy an export charge on cattle corresponding with the current charge on exports of beef arising from the variable premium arrangements. My right hon. Friend will keep these matters under review.

Sugar Beet


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he is satisfied that the price he has indicated that sugar beet manufacturers will receive in the next sugar beet campaign will be adequate to ensure the maximum take-up of the increased sugar beet quota; and what is the present level of take-up of contracts compared to the same time last year.

The British Sugar Corporation expects the contracted acreage to reach about 500,000 acres compared with 484,000 acres last year.

Is the Minister aware that the House will be grateful for the assurance he has given regarding the acreage contracted for so far? Will he tell the House something about the progress of the negotiations now taking place for an 8 per cent. price increase on 1st February and a further 8 per cent. price increase on 1st July as a result of the EEC recommendations?

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's remarks. I think he will be well aware that my right hon. Friend stated that he is in favour of the proposed price increase for beet.

Will the Minister be so kind as to sweeten my few moments by telling us whether he will now consider a massive increase in beet production in this country? Beet produced here is infinitely cheaper than that which we can buy from overseas. Will he offer to our beet producers a proper incentive by which we can raise nearly half a million tons more sugar a year than we are now raising?

I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that we are in favour of increased beet production. If the Commission's proposals go through, the price to the producer will be about £16 a ton compared with £8 a ton in 1972.

If the sugar beet crop this year yields even an average amount, what will be the total deficiency on United Kingdom sugar requirements? Is the hon. Gentleman aware that, although his right hon. Friend has said that he is negotiating a long-term agreement with the Commonwealth Sugar Agreement countries, so far not one ounce of that sugar has been bought, is on the high seas or has reached a British port?

Expected production of sugar beet will be somewhere in line with our basic quota. The hon. Gentleman know that we have had a disappointing beet crop this year. On the second part of his question, the fact is that my right hon. Friend has just secured 300,000 tons of sugar through the Lardinois scheme and is in the process of negotiating a long-term agreement with the ACP countries.

Prime Minister (Engagements)


asked the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements during the recess.


asked the Prime Minister whether he will publish in the Official Report a list of his official engagements during the Christmas Recess.


asked the Prime Minister whether he will list his official engagements during the Christmas Recess.


asked the Prime Minister whether he will publish with the Official Report a list of the official engagements he carried out during the Chrismas Recess.


asked the Prime Minister how many official visits he made during the recess.


asked the Prime Minister whether he will list his official engagements during the Christmas Recess.


asked the Prime Minster if he will list his official engagements during the recesss.

I would refer my hon. Friend and the hon. Gentlemen to the replies I gave to my hon. Friend, the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker), and to the hon. Member for City of Chester (Mr. Morrison) on 14th and 16th January respectively.

Does the right hon Gentleman agree that, on the Government's own figures, inflation is now running at a rate of 25·2 per cent. and that a list of his official engagements would reveal a complete absence of any meetings with the representatives of the many groups in our society who have been cripplingly affected by inflation, one such group being the self-employed, who have been shabbily treated by the Government?

Sir, I was asked about my official engagements. I have recently answered many Questions on inflation in the House. The House had a long debate on self-employment. I suggest that it is an abuse of Question Time to ask what official engagements I have had and then to try to raise every other subject. As there are eight Questions tabled on my official engagements, other Members are prevented from asking a Question.

May I ask the Prime Minister a question which he has carefully avoided answering before? Even if the social contract is completely successful in limiting wage increases to the rise in the cost of living, how can that reduce the rate of inflation? Will it not perpetuate the existing rate of inflation? Is it not a reality that the Prime Minister should face that if we are to achieve any reduction in inflation living standards must fall?

The Question relates to my official engagements. The social contract is not an official engagement.

Do not these jejune questions which are asked mainly by Opposition Members indicate that the Daily Express leader writer was correct the other day when he said—

—that we have the silliest and most ineffective Tory Opposition in living memory?

My official engagements did not include the Daily Express during the period in question. I would ask my hon. Friend to show more compassion for the Conservative Party at this time.

As the House adjourned for the Christmas Recess on the eve of what was obviously a growing economic crisis, is it not natural that my right hon. and hon. Friends and the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) who seems for some reason not to be here today—[Interruption.] I am drawing to the attention of the Prime Minister the fact that the hon. Member for Bolsover joined us on the eve of the recess in tabling Questions that were designed to determine the leadership that the Prime Minister was to give us during the recess in dealing with the mounting crisis. Will the right hon. Gentleman now answer the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Lamont)?

It is perfectly in order for the hon. Member to table Questions about my official engagements. He did not put down a Question about the matters now being raised in supplementary questions and I submit that this is an abuse of the House which has stopped the answering today of a large number of Questions tabled in good faith by Conservative and Labour Members who were not a syndicated team such as are this lot who appear every week.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that his answers to my hon. Friends' questions are, as usual, long on words but short on facts? Will he kindly tell us what he did in the Christmas Recess to deal with the economic crisis?

The hon. Member is perfectly well aware of the engagements I had, for example, with the NEDC and others, on Northern Ireland and on one thing and another. They were all announced at the time. The hon. Gentleman did not need to table Questions to find out. I have not been long on words. My comments have been directed to the rules of the House.

Will my right hon. Friend please publish a list of his engagements for the benefit of the Labour side of the House so that we can see how they compare with conducting carol concerts at Broadstairs and killing dolphins off Jamaica?

Although in the previous Parliament the same syndicated group put most of their Questions to the then Prime Minister about me and not about him, I have to say—and this is the position—that there is no ministerial responsibility for the Leader of the Opposition.

What on earth does the Prime Minister think Prime Minister's Question Time is for? Is it not intended to enable him to answer such questions as what he did during the Christmas Recess, or does he regard it as being designed to enable him to fill the Chamber with a fog of verbiage?

The fog is coming from these questions. A number of hon. Members on both sides of the House have tabled serious Questions which will not be reached because of the obstruction of hon. Members opposite. The whole House is aware that every week, under the previous Government and this one, an official of Tory Central Office sends out little coloured slips to hon. Gentlemen. It has now become an abuse.

Is the Prime Minister aware that the only abuse of Question Time is the way he is carrying on at present? Since he did not pay an official visit to Leicestershire during the Christmas Recess, may I ask him to take this opportunity of publicly commending those women workers in Leicestershire who have voluntarily forgone nationally-negotiated wage increases so that their firms will not suffer redundancies and possible bankruptcies?

The hon. Gentleman is a member of this syndicated group. The Question he put down asked about my official engagements, not about things I did not do. The hon. Member has now been a Member of this House long enough—

to know that there is a perfectly proper procedure for this, which I think he has used. He can ask me if I will visit his constituency or any other part of Leicestershire or the United Kingdom. It is often done. The hon. Gentleman might do it directly next time and not by this technique.

Is it not the case that it has long been the custom of this House that Questions to the Prime Minister deal with two spheres, namely, whether he will visit a particular place or whether he will give details of his previous engagements, to give right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House the opportunity to question him on wider matters which, because of the present definition of Questions, they are not otherwise permitted to do? What is happening this afternoon is an abuse by the Prime Minister of a long-standing custom of the House. Since the Prime Minister has now stated that one of his engagements was with the NEDC, may I put to him a specific question concerning the NEDC which has been raised by my hon. Friends? As a result of the discussions which he has had with industry, employers and trade unions, are workers entitled to get settlements under the social contract which maintain their real standard of living in 1975? "Yes" or "No"?

In reply to the first part of the question, if it was a question, put by the right hon. Gentleman, I have followed past practice in these matters. Asking Questions about official engagements has never been any warrent whatever for putting supplementary questions about engagements that did not take place or for covering general matters which have been answered by me each time that I have been here ever since the House came back. I answered the second part of the right hon. Gentleman's question last Thursday. I refer him to that answer. It did not arise out of my official engagements. I answered that question last Thursday in reply to a perfectly properly put Question. There was also a statement issued on Monday dealing with this. I refer the right hon. Gentleman to the statement made yesterday by Mr. Len Murray which is relevant to this. The answer is that we are asking people now to show greater compliance with the social contract. That is what the social contract means, and that is an answer to the right hon. Gentleman.

Will the right hon. Gentleman now, on his own responsibility, give a direct answer to the question which has been asked by my hon. Friends and myself? Is it "Yes" or "No"?

This does not arise out of my official engagements, but I will answer it. It is this kind of question that was responsible for the mess the country was in a year ago. Of course it is possible for people to maintain living standards, but this depends on productivity, avoidance of unemployment, the following of our policies and the repudiation of those which brought the country to its knees.

Legislative Programme


asked the Prime Minister if he is satisfied with progress in the implementation of the Government's programme as set out in Her Majesty's Gracious Speech.

Can my right hon. Friend give an assurance to the House that the National Enterprise Board, when it is set up, will be adequately financed? Can he say whether its decisions, once it is established, can be overridden by the European Commission?

I hope that the Bill dealing with the National Enterprise Board will be introduced in the very near future and that it will make reasonably speedy progress through the House, with the general will of hon. Members in all parts. Its powers will be set out in the Bill. It will follow strictly the lines of the White Paper published by the Government before the General Eelection and clearly endorsed by the country. There is no power that I am aware of in the European Commission which in any way interferes with the right of the Government to set up anything like the 1RC or the NEB or to take firms into public ownership, in accordance with the law of the land.

Will the Prime Minister tell the House when the Government intend to do something to redeem their pledge to improve rural transport? Is he aware that, because of the vastly increased price of petrol, bus services in many rural areas are being drastically reduced? Is it not time that the Government came forward with proposals to help when many people are finding it difficult to get to work?

The hon. Gentleman has raised a most important issue. I am not sure whether he is referring to public transport in rural areas or to owner-drivers. Both cases are important. The House has discussed the petrol problems of those who have to drive to work. I have answered questions about it and my right hon. Friend the Minister for Transport has given help to rural bus undertakings, road transport and railways. Because this is an important point, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will pursue this matter with my right hon. Friend.

Press (Royal Commission)


asked the Prime Minister when he expects to announce the appointment of the new Chairman of the Royal Commission on the Press.

I am grateful for that information. Is the Prime Minister aware of the increasing public concern which has been expressed about the freedom of the Press? Will he, in particular, take early steps to give evidence to the Royal Commission to ensure that it is aware of the need for those employed in the industry to have the right to belong to the trade union of their choice? Furthermore, will he ensure that editors employed in the industry have the right to select the material of their choice without censorship from those otherwise employed in the industry?

That is an important question. The House debated these matters last spring in what I believe most people felt was one of the most significant and constructive debates on this subject for many years. I think the hon. Gentleman has in mind the question of industrial relations legislation, which has been fully debated in the House and outside, and the House has taken decisions. It is not for me to go further into it today.

As I think the hon. Gentleman will agree, the Royal Commission by its terms of reference has to deal with the freedom of the Press. If I could feel that the anxieties—I recognise that they are real—about the National Union of Journalists and the editorial position were the only threat to the freedom of the Press, we should be talking about a very different Press. Some of the main threats to the freedom of the Press are concerned with the danger of newspapers going out of existence—which has been very real in these last few days—and with proprietorial interference with the rights of those self-same newspapers. These are matters within the terms of reference of the Royal Commission.

Does not my right hon. Friend agree that the influence of advertisers and politically motivated proprietors is infinitely more dangerous than anything which the NUJ might exert? I am sure that the Prime Minister supports his right hon. Friend in his approach to the "phoney" campaign that has been waged against him.

That accusation is often made about advertisers. I have not seen a great deal of evidence on this matter except for one or two suggestions recently of owners getting a good personal Press in "William Hickey" or not getting into "William Hickey" because of the switching of advertising. That is very trivial stuff. If it were thought that advertisers were using their economic power to interfere with the freedom of the Press, that would be eminently a matter for the Royal Commission. So is the question raised by my hon. Friend about proprietorial interference with editorial views.

Questions To Ministers

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I have raised with you on several occasions the strange devices to which the House has to resort to get the Prime Minister of the day to answer Questions. I have suggested to you, Sir, that we should consider a method of doing this other than by suggesting that the Prime Minister should pay an official visit to a constituency.

It so happens that I have just been advised by the Prime Minister that he is to visit my constituency tomorrow, without my having invited him. I am delighted that he is to be accompanied by yourself, the Leader of the Opposition and the Leader of the Liberal Party. I assure the Prime Minister that I shall not be discussing politics with him on this occasion.

On the more serious matter, I think that we should give time to considering how we should be able to speak to the Prime Minister at Question Time.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I apologise to the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) if, contrary to usual practice followed by nearly all right hon. and hon. Members, he was not informed earlier. He will know that I am not going to his constituency for any nefarious purpose, and I shall not make any speeches which are likely to lead to his early unseating. The visit is not concerned with the hon. Gentleman's constituency. It is for the enthronement of the Primate of All England that the Leader of the Opposition, myself and others are going.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I try to clear up the matter of the Questions to the Prime Minister this afternoon about his official engagements? If those Questions were in order—as, clearly, in your view, Mr. Speaker, they were or they would not have appeared on the Order Paper—is it not the duty of the Prime Minister to answer them? Is it right for the Prime Minister or any other Minister to arrogate to himself the judgment whether or not they are an abuse of the House? Surely these are matters for you and not for the Prime Minister.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. May we have your assurance that the Table will continue to accept Questions of this type whether or not they are welcome to the Prime Minister?

With regard to those three points of order, with which I think many hon. and right hon. Members have some sympathy, this matter was referred to a special Select Committee on Parliamentary Questions. From memory, that Select Committee came to the conclusion that there was not much that it could do about it.

Certainly, I think that the situation is not very satisfactory, whichever party is in power. It is a matter which could perhaps be looked at again.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. There may be some confusion between the Questions and the supplementary questions. No one has ever objected to Questions of that type being put on the Order Paper, and I answered them. But it takes the time of the House if on those Questions hon. Members hang any subject relating to any part of the world without regard to ministerial responsibility.

As the whole House knows, I have been much freer in answering Questions from the Government side of the House over the last 10 years than has the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition. But when syndicated Questions are asked for the purpose of raising subjects which have nothing to do with official engagements the result is to crowd out many hon. Members on both sides of the House who have serious Questions and supplementary questions to put.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. The Prime Minister said that he had been much freer in answering Questions than had my right hon. Friend. If by "freer" he means longer, I think there will be total unanimity.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. The right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) by that remark has shown the quality of his bid for the leadership. I have been freer, Mr. Speaker, in the sense that I have gone wider. I have answered supplementary questions that have not normally been answered by Prime Ministers of either party.

If I may continue to preserve complete impartiality, I think that the House is in a genuine difficulty. We are concerned with the peg on which to hang a Question to the Prime Minister. The trouble is that if one asks a direct Question it is frequently transferred to another Minister—as I have found in the past. That has happened under both Governments and it has been going on for a long time. This has nothing to do with party issues; it has been the practice of the House, and I do not think that it is a very satisfactory one. The Select Committee examined the subject and came to the conclusion that there was not much it could do. Perhaps the Procedure Committee or a special Select Committee might look at this matter again.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Surely, the distinction which the Prime Minister, in replying to you a moment ago, sought to make between official engagements and the supplementary questions that were asked is not a meaningful distinction. If it is in order to put down a Question about the Prime Minister's official engagements, it must also be in order and quite legitimate to ask a supplementary question about the subject which we know from those engagements the Prime Minister discussed.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it not a simple matter of the Prime Minister alleging that the supplementary questions were out of order? Is this not a matter for you, Sir, rather than for the Prime Minister, and if you allow the supplementary questions is it not incumbent on the Prime Minister to answer them?

It would be much better to consider this as a general question on the better management of the affairs of the House of Commons. The problem has existed for a long time, and arguments of this sort should be put to a committee that might be appointed to look into the matter.

European Economic Community (British Membership)

Mr. Speaker, I will, with permission, make a statement about the means by which the British people will decide the issue of our membership of the European Community.

It is the declared policy of the Government that, once the outcome of our renegotiation of the terms of membership is known, the British people should have the right to decide, through the ballot box, by means either of a General Election or of a referendum, whether Britain should continue in membership of the European Community or should withdraw.

The Government have decided that this should be done by means of a referendum.

Prolonged uncertainty and delay on the decision of the British people are in the interests neither of Britain nor of other members of the Community. After 15 years of discussion and negotiation, it is an issue which all of us in this House and in the country want to see settled; and uncertainty about the future of British membership is inhibiting the work of the Community. The Government are committed to putting the issue to the people before 10th October this year. Provided that the outcome of renegotiation is known in time, we intend to hold the referendum before the summer holidays, which means in practice not later than the end of June. We shall, therefore, propose to the House arrangements which would make it possible to hold the referendum on that timetable, tight though it will be.

When the outcome of renegotiation is known, the Government will decide upon their own recommendation to the country, whether for continued membership of the Community on the basis of the renegotiated terms, or for withdrawal, and will announce their decision to the House in due course. That announcement will provide an opportunity for the House to debate the question of substance. That does not, of course, preclude debates at any earlier time, subject to the convenience of the House.

The circumstances of this referendum are unique, and the issue to be decided is one on which strong views have long been held which cross party lines. The Cabinet has, therefore, decided that, if when the time comes there are members of the Government, including members of the Cabinet, who do not feel able to accept and support the Government's recommendation; whatever it may be, they will, once the recommendation has been announced, be free to support and speak in favour of a different conclusion in the referendum campaign. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"]

As to the arrangements for the referendum, I told the House on Tuesday that the rules for the test of public opinion must be made by this House. The Government propose within a very few weeks to publish a White Paper on the rules and arrangements for conducting the referendum. The White Paper will set out the various possible courses on each issue and the Government's proposals on such matters as, for example, the information policy of the Government during the referendum campaign, broadcasting arrangements during the campaign, the question of expenditure by campaigning groups, the form in which the question is to be put to the British people, and arrangements for conducting the poll, the counting of the votes and the announcement of the result.

The Government will provide time for a debate on the White Paper on referendum procedure in this House before the Easter recess. That debate will, of course, be separate from, and will precede, the parliamentary debate which will be necessary on the outcome of the negotiations. The debate on the referendum White Paper will enable the Government to take full account of the views expressed by right hon. and hon. Members of this House, and by public opinion generally, in drafting the necessary legislation for the referendum.

The Government propose to introduce the legislation around Easter-time. We shall, of course, propose that all stages should be taken on the Floor of the House. If we are to be able to hold the referendum before the summer holiday, the Bill will need to complete its passage through both Houses and to receive Royal Assent by the end of May.

I thank the Prime Minister for making his long-foreseen and much-heralded statement. He will recognise that he has announced a major constitutional innovation but has told us little about the details of how the matter is to be dealt with. He told the House that in what he described—and many of us would agree—as a unique operation and a major question of our time the Government are not going to maintain collective responsibility.

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman certain questions? If his Government are not to maintain collective responsibility, how will the Government make their recommendation to the House over what the attitude should be towards the situation of the so-called renegotiation? Will the Government set out the number of members of the Cabinet who support the recommendation and those who are opposed to it? Will the Government publish the names of the members of the Cabinet who are on each side, or does he undertake to make a recommendation which will include freedom for them to decide to make no recommendation? Perhaps the Prime Minister will elaborate on the course he proposes to follow.

Secondly, the Prime Minister said nothing about the relationship of the referendum to Members of this House. Will he, therefore, confirm that the referendum, if it takes place, will be advisory and consultative and cannot be binding on Members of the House of Commons?

Thirdly, should not the details of the referendum be set out in a Green Paper rather than in a White Paper so that it is a consultative document on which Members of the House will be free to express their views and to influence the Government in debate—a matter which we welcome because it is essential?

Fourthly, will the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that if the referendum takes place the House will go into recess for a proper period to allow Members to express their views to constituents and to campaign up and down the country? It will not be enough to carry on that activity while the House is sitting.

May I remind the right hon. Gentleman that what he has announced is that the Government will be seeking power from Parliament to have a referendum? This is a major constitutional issue which we on this side of the House have always maintained is undesirable. Therefore, it rests with Parliament to decide whether this constitutional innovation should take place or not.

The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition is right to say that this is a major constitutional innovation, and it is right that we should both use the word "unique". It is a very special situation which I do not think anybody will take as a precedent.

The right hon. Gentleman referred to collective responsibility, which I shall come to in a moment.

The right hon. Gentleman asked how the decision of the Government would be recommended to the House and, through the House, to the country. The answer is that we shall state what our recommendation is in the light of the renegotiations—[Interruption.] We shall state—I shall state—the recommendations I hope that hon. Gentlemen will take these matters very seriously. I am prepared to make every allowance for the nervousness of those hon. Gentlemen. Other right hon. and hon. Members have more serious matters to attend to both in Government and in relation to this very important question. I am trying to answer a serious question from the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition. Perhaps his back benchers and supporters will allow it to be answered.

We shall state to the House the view of the Cabinet on this matter. When the right hon. Gentleman asked whether this would mean freedom to state that there will be no recommendation made to the House, I can assure him right away that there will be a recommendation to the House in the light of the renegotiations to say whether the Government advise the House and the country that we should stay in the Common Market on the terms renegotiated or come out of the Common Market on the terms renegotiated. I am sure that when the House comes to look at the legislation for the referendum it will see that people in the country will be given a chance of giving a clear decision "Yes" or "No" and that there will be an equally clear recommendation "Yes" or "No" in that respect.

The right hon. Gentleman was anxious to know whether the vote of the people should be binding. He no doubt has given his mind to this very carefully, and it is an important question. I cannot imagine that if the country votes clearly one way or the other "Yes" or "No" hon. Members would feel able to go against that decision and vote against—[Interruption.] That is my view. The right hon. Gentleman takes a different view, and he is entitled to do so. I am expressing my view and the view of most of us, I think, on this side of the House.

The right hon. Gentleman asked whether the document on the referendum could be in the form of a Green Paper rather than a White Paper. I do not believe that there should be much difficulty over what he has in mind. I made clear on the question of the White Paper that we should want to have a debate and to listen to the views of right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House before finalising the legislation. I hope also that it might be possible for informal talks to take place, through the usual channels or in any other way, between parties of the House and for all this to be set out before the legislation is finalised. In other words, the White Paper will have some green edges, and I am prepared to discuss with the Leader of the Opposition the basis on which we give advice to the House on the referendum. But in the last resort Parliament is sovereign in the matter of legislation which governs the holding of and all other arrangements connected with the referendum.

The right hon. Gentleman asked whether Parliament should go into recess during the campaign. That matter would have to be considered, although I would not feel it right that a very important and essential parliamentary timetable—which the whole country wants us to get through this year—should be held up on that account. But the right hon. Gentleman may have noticed, having done his calculations on the matter, that if there is an adequate degree of co-operation in getting the legislation through, combined, of course, with the thorough investigation of all the different parts of the legislative process which we usually have in this House, there might well be time during the Whitsun Recess for hon. Members who might otherwise go on holiday to campaign on the issue.

The right hon. Gentleman said that a major constitutional question had been raised by what I have announced. This matter has divided the country. People on both sides of the question hold their views very deeply, very sincerely and very strongly. That applies both in this House and in the country. Indeed, the Liberal Party has such a division as well. There is undoubtedly a very deep and serious division in this House. Contrary to the pledges which were given during the 1970 General Election campaign, the British people were not given the right to decide. We are repairing that omission; and in the circumstances, while there may be differences about the Common Market, there is no division on this side of the House, or in the Cabinet, on the major issue of the referendum. That is why I believe it right to take this step in this unique situation.

Will the Prime Minister clarify two points? Whatever he may judge the attitude of right hon. and hon. Members to be, will he confirm that a referendum cannot be constitutionally binding on any Member of this House, and that it remains for Parliament to decide, if it so wishes, after the referendum? Secondly, will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that, when he is announcing the Government's policy, he will tell us how many members of the Cabinet support the recommendation, how many oppose it, and who they are?

The right hon. Gentleman is, of course, right in the constitutional sense that no one can tell a Member of this House how to vote, although people may try sometimes to tell hon. Members on either side of the House how to vote. In that sense, the referendum could not be binding. But I perhaps pay more attention to the views of the people in the country than the right hon. Gentleman did, despite his promise, and I express the view that I could not imagine many hon. Members deciding to pit their own judgment in this matter against what has been the decision of the people of the country. That is just my view.

The second question related to what I should say when the recommendation is made to the House. I will consider the point raised by the right hon. Gentleman. I do not see much difficulty in it. The situation will become obvious very quickly anyway.

We welcome the fact that the Government are to make a recommendation in this matter, from which we assume that the Cabinet will make a collective decision from which individuals may subsequently deviate.

Is the Prime Minister aware that if it is the case that the Government are divided on the matter it is better that individual Cabinet Ministers should have freedom of expression rather than that they should be compelled to vote and speak against their convictions? Since Cabinet Ministers are no more than ordinary Members of Parliament, will the same facilities be given to Labour back benchers? It would be very odd to have a free vote of the British people and a whipped vote of their elected representatives.

Does the Prime Minister recall that last Tuesday he said that this was a matter to be decided by the Chief Whip? Is he aware that, such is the respect we have for the Chief Whip, we think he must be allowed to have his own views on these matters, and we should like to know what they are?

Is the Prime Minister suggesting that the Government would regard the refer-end urn decision as mandatory and that if the recommendation were rejected by the British people, they would feel compelled to have a Dissolution and go to the country? That is important.

Finally, if the Prime Minister is to allow a free vote—which would be a new democratic position for him to enter upon—would not he agree that for the sovereignty of Parliament, which I hope we all value, the best thing would be to have a free vote of this House and then ask the British people whether they agreed with that free vote, democratically arrived a by their sovereign Parliament, and if they did agree that would be the end of the matter, and, if not, there would be a Dissolution.

I hope that it will be the view of the House, and it will be our recommendation, that it should be a straight question—"in" or "out", "Yes" or "No"—and not a convoluted question. It will be a straight question.

The right hon. Gentleman not incorrectly summed up what I said about the decision of the Cabinet and the right to differ, although he used the word "deviate" The only precedent—a sound one—was devised by the Liberals in 1932.

Was it 1931? I think that the actual agreement to differ in the Cabinet was in 1932. I have studied this matter, as one of historical interest, in the Public Record Office, and I shall be glad to send the right hon. Gentleman a copy of the relevant document. But, whether it was 1931 or 1932, it was a Liberal precedent. That is why I am so glad that the right hon. Gentleman is supporting us today on this matter.

The right hon. Gentleman also raised the question of a free vote or of whipping on the matter.
"Every Government is entitled to ask its own supporters to support it on a major issue such as this."
Those words were used by the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) on this question when he was Prime Minister. He said, 10 days before the Common Market debate, that there would be no free vote. However, three days before the debate he changed his mind—it had to be dragged out of him—and for tactical reasons announced a free vote in the House. We will decide this issue nearer to the day, although perhaps much earlier than the right hon. Gentleman did.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has said that, in his view, Members of this House will be, at any rate in some way, bound by the result of the referendum. Might not that be difficult if, as is possible, a considerable number of citizens feel that the matter ought to be decided by Parliament and that, therefore, they cannot vote in the referendum? Might it not, therefore, be wise to establish the principle that no result from the referendum can be regarded as effective unless it has the support of a clear majority of all those entitled to vote?

My right hon. Friend has told us that when it comes to announcing the Government's recommendation it will be he who will express it to the House. Can he tell us who at that date will express the Opposition's point of view?

It depends on what we announce. It might well be the Leader of the Opposition for the time being who will express a view on that. [Interruption.] I refrain from rising to that one. It would be a little too easy in this situation. I am very anxious to protect the right hon. Gentleman. I have longer-term considerations in view so far as he is concerned.

As regards what my right hon. Friend said on the question of a percentage vote, we are studying what has been the position in other countries which have held referenda either on the Market or on other questions, and we shall in due course let the House know our views on this matter.

I have known and understood my right hon. Friend's position on this matter for very many years, certainly over the last 10 years. My right hon. Friend was against joining Europe at the time of the first application by Mr. Macmillan's Government. Later he took the view that he was in favour, and that has been his view.

I have taken the view all along that it is right to be in if the terms are right, not if they are crippling. That is the position. [Interruption.] My right hon. Friend, however, speaks with all his authority, which is not added to by any praise from a small-timer like the hon. Member opposite.

My right hon. Friend has expressed his view this afternoon about whether it is appropriate to have a referendum rather than to debate the matter in Parliament. I remind my right hon. Friend that he, in common with all my right hon. and hon. Friends, fought the General Election on a manifesto which said precisely this.

I understood the Prime Minister to say that before the White Paper is published he will have conversations with the party political leaders, and so on. Will he also have consultations with the organisations outside the House which represent, rather more than the party political leaders possibly, the feeling in the country?

Secondly, the Labour Party has always said that it would leave the matter to the ballot box. I understand that the Prime Minister has now gone nap on a referendum. If, as one hears rumoured, the other place will block it, surely that will force the Prime Minister back to the ballot box by holding a General Election.

The last time, apart from 1974, when there were two General Elections in a year was precisely because of a challenge by the House along the corridor. I am quite certain that the whole trend of opinion has changed since those days, and I would not, and I am sure that the whole House would not, expect any problems of that kind.

The hon. Gentleman referred to organisations outside. Certainly my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will be prepared to have consultations with any organisations outside the House expressing any point of view about the Market, as well as parties inside the House.

One of the things that we are looking at in relation to the White Paper that I have promised to publish is the question of how far the main campaigning groups—it is a straight "Yes" or "No" issue, so there cannot be more than two—if they can organise themselves in such a way that the Government and the Opposition and everyone else can consult them about the conduct of the referendum, can be recognised in the campaign in the sense that parties are recognised by the broadcasting authorities in a General Election.

These are all matters on which we have not formed any view. We shall consider them and inform the House of our views, and we shall expect to hear from the House whether it feels that what we are proposing is the right thing to do.

Would not my right hon. Friend agree that the supreme policy-making body within the Labour movement is the annual conference of its rank and file members? Therefore, will he accept that there will be great disappointment throughout the country that he has resorted to the idea of having a free vote by Cabinet members in order to pre-empt the necessity of an annual conference decision that would be binding upon all Members? Will he have another look at the request that he has made to the National Executive Committee of the Labour Party to abandon the idea of taking a vote at a specially convened conference of the party?

I have not made such a request. My hon. Friend is, of course, right to display his knowledge of the constitution of the Labour Party, which is a subject I have studied over many years. I have chaired the party and I have been on its National Executive Committee for many years. One day, no doubt, my hon. Friend will succeed finally in getting on to the National Executive Committee.

With regard to both the practice of the party and its constitution, my hon. Friend will find that the constitution of the party lays down that the party was set up to secure seats in Parliament, at which we have not done too badly over the years. It was not the purpose, having done that, to say that those who had been elected to Parliament should not be able to play their full part in the parliamentary sovereignty of this country. Parliamen- tary sovereignty is, in fact, one of the issues in question in the Common Market negotiations.

Therefore, while I have always paid the fullest attention to decisions whether of the conference or of the National Executive Committee, all of us in the House have been elected to take decisions and as long as I am Prime Minister there will be no derogation in this matter. There will always be the happiest and most comradely of relations with the National Executive Committee. No one has done more than I have for over 20 years to secure that, except my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary over the last year—[Laughter.]—and, of course, previously. I was referring to my right hon. Friend's year of chairmanship.

The Labour Government were elected on a manifesto which pledged us to this referendum. I have announced the referendum this afternoon. We shall put this matter to the country, and as far as this Government are concerned—let there be no doubt about this—we shall accept the verdict of the people.

If the Prime Minister is going to concede that members of the Cabinet should express diverse views on a collective issue, is he going to extend this principle to other issues as well—for instance, nationalisation?

I have said, as the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition said in a different context, that this is a unique matter. It is a unique matter. It is a matter which divides every party. It divides the whole country. We as a Government and as a party are a great deal more united on all the other major issues of the day than is the Conservative Party, because it has no policy on most of them. That is the problem.

I recognise, and I am right to recognise, that this is a matter on which my right hon. and hon. Friends feel very deeply even to the point—some of them, on one side or the other—of feeling that they would rather leave politics than accept something unacceptable. I respect that position. I believe that there are some hon. Members on the other side of the House who take the same view. Some have shown this. I think that it is right for us to show this respect. Whether it is right or not in the view of hon. Members opposite does not matter at the end of the day. This is a matter of fundamental importance. I believe that it is right to give this freedom to differ on this matter because we are so united on everything else.

In the House last week the Prime Minister reaffirmed the commitment to seek the whole-hearted consent of the British people to British membership of the European Economic Community. Will the White Paper which he has announced this afternoon that he intends to publish indicate how the results of a referendum will be evaluated in the light of that commitment?

I am not sure what the right hon. Gentleman means by "evaluated". If he means whether questions of counting, and so on, will be dealt with, I said that the White Paper will deal with them. It would be premature for me to forecast what we shall recommend to the House, and we shall take into account the House's views on this matter. If by "evaluated" the right hon. Gentleman was referring to the matter raised by a right hon. Gentleman on the benches opposite and by my right hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. Stewart) about how one should evaluate a hypothetical situation in which X per cent. of the people vote for and Y per cent. of the people vote against, I do not think that it is likely that we shall speculate about hypothetical questions of that kind. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will make plain what he wished me to answer.

I had assumed that a bare majority would be unlikely to be regarded as indicating the full-hearted consent of the people which leaders of both parties have regarded as the essential condition of continued British membership.

I think that this is a somewhat hypothetical question. Whenever I try to get guidance on this matter from people who feel strongly about it, I get the impression that they would be satisfied with a bare majority if it went their way but not if it went the other way.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that it has been difficult to hear everything that he said about the nature of the White Paper? Will the White Paper be detailed enough to set out what the Government propose to do to ensure that the electors are presented clearly with the alternatives to membership?

The White Paper will be about the technical methods of taking the vote on the referendum. It will not deal with the issues. It will not deal with the case for or the case against or the alternatives. It will deal with the method of taking the referendum, which the House will have to decide. It will deal with the questions, for example, whether there should be unlimited expenditure by the various campaigning groups, whether paid canvassers will be allowed and whether people can buy broadcasting time. It will deal with the technical questions relating to something which is unprecedented and, by common consent of the House, unique; namely, a referendum. It will not deal with the arguments for and against staying in the Community.

Will the right hon. Gentleman help us a little on the question of the legislation? Under the new doctrine of Cabinet responsibility, will it be in order for the Secretary of State for Industry to move amendments to the Government's referendum Bill? If so, will he do it from the Government Front Bench or the Government back benches?

I find it difficult to forecast which of my right hon. and hon. Friends will want to move amendments to the Bill, because I do not know, and nobody else knows, the outcome of the renegotiations. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman has it all sewn up. We have had that before and paid a big price for it. I do not know what the renegotiations will provide. All I know is that the terms must be a damned sight better—I am sorry, Mr. Speaker; a great deal better—than the lot we had before. The hon. Gentleman has put a very hypothetical question, but the position of individual members of the Cabinet will be decided at the time. The hon. Gentleman will recognise that when I referred to the possibility of what used to be an agreement to differ, I said that it will apply only if there is not complete unanimity in the Cabinet on this question. There may well be.

May I on behalf of my party congratulate the Prime Minister on his statement and particularly on the very clear-cut time scale? As he seems not to be entirely appreciated, may I offer him some crumbs of constitutional comfort from Scots law by which the supremacy of Parliament is less important than the sovereignty of the people?

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree with the view of the Secretary of State for Employment, as reported in The Times today, that the counting should be done on what he calls a regional basis lest the Government be accused of attempted concealment of the facts? Will the Prime Minister bear in mind that if there is an attempted concealment of the facts, of the vital statistics, from the people of Scotland, it will be reflected in an ever upward scale of support for my party?

I shall not enter into the question of vital statistics with the hon. Lady, but I undertake to consult the Lord Advocate about the matter of Scots law she mentioned and certain situations in which the will of the people is regarded as more important than Parliament, though I have never noticed that it has inhibited her or her hon. Friends in seeking election to this House.

I have seen the reports about the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment. I cannot confirm them. They were made at a private meeting of the National Executive Committee of the Labour Party, which always meets in private and in confidentiality. I was not present. All I can give is the position of the Cabinet in this matter; namely, that we shall issue a White Paper in which will be our recommendation to the House, which must decide whether the count shall be taken in this way or that way or in some other way.

Will my right hon. Friend congratulate all his colleagues on the unanimity with which they have carried out their pledges compared with the broken pledges of the former Prime Minister? Will he also direct their attention to the fair point made by the hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Johnston) on behalf of the Liberal Party a week or so ago when he pointed out that in Norway and Denmark substantial funds were allocated to each side so that the issue was divorced from the influence of more corrupt sources of money?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the kind and unreserved compliment he paid to the Government.

We have been studying the practice in every other country. This is not necessarily a final decision, but I am sure that most right hon. and hon. Members would feel that the country should not be swamped with private money spent on a propaganda campaign, and it may well be that those who attempt it and have access to large sums will feel on consideration that such expenditure might be heavily counter-productive. One of the things to be decided is whether there should be any limitation. It would be difficult, unlike the position in a General Election, to have a financial limitation or amount. It may be that the House will want to consider a limitation on the types of expenditure which it would feel inappropriate in this kind of election campaign.

The Prime Minister talked about renegotiating substantially better—or, as he said, damned sight better—terms. Will he say what he meant and whether he is taking account of the considerable improvement of the original terms gained by the Conservative Government over a number of years in a constant process of negotiation?

I withdrew, with Mr. Speaker's permission, the word "damned". The question of what we meant about obtaining improved terms was set out in the Labour Party manifestos for the February and October elections and was spelt out with considerable force and at length and in detail by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when he opened the renegotiations with the Common Market last April. I recognise—and this is a very important matter in the test of opinion—that there have been changes in the Common Market irrespective of anything which any Government in this country might have requested. Some of these changes may be improving the situation; others perhaps are worsening it. They are very relevant.

On the question of pressure by the previous Government, I did not see much sign of it, but I shall look into the question which the right hon. Gentleman has raised because I should like to know about it. The biggest problems which we have had to face have concerned beef and sugar. It was our insistence on going back to the system of deficiency payments for beef which made sense out of the situation, and we are pressing that on a longer-term basis. The sugar shortage and the high price of it are due entirely to the failure of the Conservative Government in 1971 to secure continued freedom of access for Commonwealth sugar. The tearing up by them of the Commonwealth Sugar Agreement is responsible for the shortage and high cost of sugar today. I shall study what the right hon. Gentleman has said and see whether I can find any better record for the Conservative Government.

Recognising that this is a sad day, since this is the first historic time that a public announcement has been made that the House is fundamentally unfit to take a major decision affecting the country, if we arrive at a position where the referendum must be held will the Prime Minister consider publishing a second White Paper—we have argued the merits of entry for 15 years—explaining the costs of leaving the Common Market at this juncture?

With regard to the introduction to my hon. Friend's question, he knows perfectly well that I said nothing of the kind about the unfitness of this House. What I said was to make a reality of the principle on which my hon. Friend was elected to the House. Some hon. Members went to considerable lengths to get him back because we like to have him here. He is a very good colleague and comrade. The task was difficult and he was re-elected with a narrow majority. He might now ask himself whether he would have been elected if he had not fought on the manifesto which gave that pledge. It is fair to say as much to my hon. Friend, who has always been very frank, in his usual comradely way, about me on the radio and television.

With regard to the second part of the question, we shall consider what it is right for the Government to put out on all aspects of the choice facing the people and in what way these matters—the factual information, the arguments and so on—should be put out. We shall consider that. We are not rushing into it, because we do not yet know what the terms are.

Is the Prime Minister aware that it is desirable to ascertain the results of the referendum on a national basis—that is, not on a State basis, but on a basis of the nations of England, Scotland and Wales, so that we may know what is the judgment of the Welsh and Scottish nations?

The hon. Gentleman has no warrant for failing to mention Northern Ireland in this context.

I said that we were considering in our White Paper the question whether we should make a recommendation. We have not taken a decision. There are, broadly speaking, three main possibilities. The first would be for the counting to take place on a constituency basis. A second might be counting on a county or a wider than constituency basis, or regional basis, which would also mean that there would be separate figures for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and possibly for parts of them. The third possibility would be a national count in United Kingdom terms for all of those. Those are the possibilities. Naturally, we have started to look into them, but we have not taken any view on them which I can yet put to the House. However, I hope that we can do so before the White Paper is published and then hear the views of the House as a whole on this matter.

Will my right hon. Friend distinguish between the two decisions that must be taken; namely, the decision on the referendum and the form of the referendum, and the decision on the substantive terms renegotiated? Does not my right hon. Friend see that it is crucial for the House and many of our constituents, who wish to know the view of Parliament upon the terms on which they will now pronounce, that the second of those decisions should be taken on a free vote? The Prime Minister should announce that there will be a free vote of this House. If he delays until immediately before the debate takes place, he is open to the charge which was levelled against the former Prime Minister, that it was a tactical decision and not one of principle.

My colleagues and I will give consideration to that matter, recognising that the authority in these matters is with my right hon. Friend the Chief Whip. No one would ever seek to undermine his authority in these questions. Certainly it will be considered. At the right moment we shall make a statement. On the previous occasion, on Panorama, just before the big debate in the House, the Leader of the Opposition, then Prime Minister, was obviously taking the opposite point of view. Three or four days before the debate began he announced the decision to have a free vote, to put us on the spot. That was all there was to it. We shall try to decide the matter rather earlier, I think.

As the Prime Minister has conceded that the referendum cannot be binding constitutionally on a sovereign Parliament, does he agree that a simple straight in-and-out question cannot be put? Does not he agree that we must put to the British people the question whether we should remain in on the basis of the terms renegotiated by the Government and approved by Parliament, or, alternatively, withdraw on terms which would then have to be negotiated and approved by Parliament, because a treaty is involved? In those circumstances, since Parliament would have to be consulted at every stage and would be affected by the referendum, is it not right that the public should know what Parliament thinks before the referendum—and on a free vote?

It is certainly the case that these matters arise in the taking of the decision by the British people. I do not say that anything the right hon. and learned Gentleman said is incompatible with a voting paper that asks "Yes" or "No". I should not like to see a voting paper drafted in the terms of the right hon. and learned Gentleman's supplementary question. I am sure that he will do everything in his power to bring his great clarity of mind and lack of bias on these matters to help the British people to understand what are the issues. I am sure that he will do so, before deciding what must be the decision as regards the Conservative Party, "Yes" or "No". Before that, Parliament will have debated this, perhaps more than once. We may want to debate these matters in the continuing process of renegotiation, as well as the late-night debates and so on.

I have answered the question on the free vote. That will be decided in due course at the proper time.

Business Of The House

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons
(Mr. Edward Short)

The business for next week will be as follows:

MONDAY 27TH JANUARY—Supply [8th Allotted Day]: There will be a debate on standards in education, when the appropriate Votes will be before the House.

TUESDAY 28TH JANUARY—MOtion to appoint a Select Committee to consider the position of the right hon. John Stone-house as Member for Walsall, North.

Motions on the Rate Support Grant Orders for Scotland.

WEDNESDAY 29TH JANUARY—Remaining stages of the Social Security Benefits Bill.

Motion relating to the Building (Second Amendment) Regulations 1974.

THURSDAY 30TH JANUARY—Second Reading of the Prices Bill.

Motions on the Counter-Inflation (Price Code) Orders.

FRIDAY 31ST JANUARY—Private Member's Bills.

MONDAY 3RD FEBRUARY—Debate on devolution, which will arise on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Regarding next week's business, when does the Leader of the House expect to put a motion on the Order Paper concerning the setting up of the Select Committee to consider the position of the right hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Stonehouse)?

As regards the business on Monday week, will the Leader of the House confirm that the debate on devolution will be extended for a second day? I think most right hon. and hon. Members will agree that it is not possible for all those who are interested in the major questions of devolution, particularly affecting Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and England separately, to speak in just one day. Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the debate will take two days?

Thirdly, will the right hon. Gentleman tell us when we are likely to have a debate on the report of the Phillimore Committee, which greatly concerns many hon. Members, and, of course, particularly the Press outside?

Fourthly, will the right hon. Gentleman consider a debate on foreign affairs, particularly the Middle East in view of the critical situation there?

Fifthly, will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the Secretary of State for the Environment will be making a satement on housing policy to the House in the very near future, probably next week?

On the first point, a notice of motion setting up the Select Committee on the right hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Stonehouse) will be put on the Order Paper today.

Secondly, if it is the general wish of the House, I shall be prepared to make a second day available for a debate on devolution.

Thirdly, I cannot say when there will be a debate on the report of the Phillimore Committee. It is an important topic, but I think that we perhaps need rather more time in which to digest the report. I recognise its importance and the need to debate this matter.

Fourthly, I cannot say yet when there will be a debate on foreign affairs, but I have discussed this with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, and I shall try to meet the right hon. Gentleman's wishes as soon as possible.

Finally, I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment will be able to make a statement on housing in the not-too-far-distant future.

May I raise one further point with the right hon. Gentleman? It concerns the matter that we have just been discussing with the Prime Minister on the handling of the White Paper on the proposals for the referendum—or the Green Paper for which I have asked—and the legislation. Will the Secretary of State for the Home Department be in charge, as he is of all electoral matters, together with the other Secretaries of State involved?

The preparation of the Bill will be done by a department in the Cabinet Office, supervised by me.

In view of the broken promise about the introduction of a public lending right Bill before Christmas, may we be told when we can now expect this measure?

Is the Leader of the House aware that his indication that there will be a second day for the debate on devolution is extremely welcome and absolutely essential considering that this is the first opportunity that we have had to examine the whole matter referring to four countries since the Kilbrandon Committee? Will these days be consecutive?