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Prime Minister (Engagements)

Volume 931: debated on Saturday 5 March 1977

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asked the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for 5th May.


asked the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 5th May 1977.


asked the Prime Minister if he will list his engagements for 5th May.

This morning I presided at a meeting of the Cabinet. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall be holding further meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. This evening I shall be welcoming President Carter on his arrival in this country.

Will my right hon. Friend send an urgent message today to the Queen, warning her that her speech yesterday appears to have upset the hon. Member for Moray and Nairn (Mrs. Ewing) and other loyalists in the SNP, who now appear to be intent on replacing the Monarch by another "Old Pretender" who has ambitions of becoming Winnie, Queen of Scots?

I am afraid that I cannot begin to compete with my hon. Friend, whose remarks seem to be as much in tune with the sentiment of this House as was the speech of Her Majesty yesterday.

Among the Prime Minister's engagements today is his appearance at the Dispatch Box this afternoon. Does the letter from his secretary to the Clerk of the Select Committee on Procedure, on the matter of Prime Minister's Questions, mean that in future the right hon. Gentleman will be prepared to deal with Questions relating to important issues on foreign and defence matters but not with Questions relating to important issues in the domestic sphere? Do the Government accept the recommendation of the Select Committee? If so, do they have the intention of implementing it?

I thought it appropriate to wait for a few days before making a statement to the House on this matter, I suggest that I may do so next Thursday, when I have received a response to the recommendations of the Select Committee. The hon. Gentleman will know, from the fact that I not only instigated the inquiry but made the proposals, that I shall not be unfriendly to the recommendations.

Is the Prime Minister aware, following the question from his hon. Friend the Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan), that, speaking as a member of the House of Stuart who owes loyalty to Her Majesty, it is my opinion that there might be better claimants to the Throne than the one mentioned by the hon. Gentleman? Is it correct that it is a constitutional convention that Her Majesty's pronouncements in Parliament represent Government policy? If that convention still exists, does the Prime Minister accept responsibility for Her Majesty's address to the Houses of Parliament yesterday?


That is a question that I thought I might be asked, and I should like to give a considered reply to it.

Unlike the speech from the Throne, the Queen's reply to the Loyal Addresses was not a statement of Government policy. It was a personal response by the Queen, but it should certainly be regarded as having been made on the advice of Ministers, as are all Her Majesty's speeches. I saw it myself before it was delivered and I saw no reason to propose any alteration.

If the right hon. Gentleman cares to read it again, he will see that the speech specifically recognised the strength of feeling for the devolution of government to Scotland and Wales, and emphasised the benefits to all of maintaining the integrity of the United Kingdom. That is, and remains, the policy of Her Majesty's Government.

As my right hon. Friend's duties today include a warm welcome to the President of the United States, will he be in a position to discuss with President Carter a most interesting, democratic idea put forward recently by the President, namely, that a member of the Press should be present at Cabinet meetings in the United States? Is not that an idea that might usefully be employed in the United Kingdom as well?

Sometimes I wonder whether they are not. The answer to my hon. Friend is that although all of us are always in favour of as much open government as we can provide, there are, nevertheless, occasions when people want to discuss things quietly among themselves, without the all-intrusive eye of the Press being present. I can tell my hon. Friend what would happen if one did admit a member of the Press to Cabinet meetings. There would then be small conclaves in smoke-filled rooms where the Press was not present. It is far better that this should be done on a regular basis.

Is it part of the Prime Minister's open government that the report of the Review Body on Doctors' and Dentists' Remuneration should have been leaked to the medical Press this morning? Is he aware that he has had that report on his desk for more than a month? Is it not rather a shabby way to treat the profession to allow the matter to come out in this underhand way? What is in the report that the Prime Minister is so frightened of it?

I fear that the answer to all parts of that question is "I do not know".

May I revert to the Prime Minister's considered reply of a moment ago? Is he aware that it was very much preferable to many of his unconsidered replies? The sentiments that he expressed represent not just the policy of Her Majesty's Government; they are totally in accord with the views of the majority of the people of Scotland regardless of their political persuasion.

My answer to the first part of the right hon. Gentleman's question is that if there were not so many unconsidered supplementary questions there would not need to be so many unconsidered replies.

I agree with the second part of the right hon. Gentleman's question. The House gave a Second Reading to the devolution Bill by a substantial majority, and I think that it would be useful if the House could agree to make progress on the Bill, even if certain changes need to be made to it, to meet the real demand of the Scottish and Welsh people. Then they can decide the matter by a referendum.