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Commons Chamber

Volume 928: debated on Wednesday 23 March 1977

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House Of Commons

Wednesday 23rd March 1977

The House met at half-past Two o'clock

Prayers

[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Oral Answers To Questions

Scotland

Council House Sales

1.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he has any plans to encourage local authorities to sell more houses to sitting tenants.

The sale of council houses is an aspect of housing policy which must await the outcome of the current review.

Does the Minister appreciate that in survey after survey a substantial proportion of council tenants want the chance to own their homes and are becoming increasingly dissatisfied with a system that allows the State to interfere more and more in their daily lives, including owning the very roofs over their heads?

The present policy is working adequately, in the sense that we take into account waiting lists and unmet demands for rented accommodation in the council sector. Therefore, we have no reason to change the situation, but as I have said we are reviewing it. In the recent survey in Glasgow, 80 per cent. of the council tenants said that they did not want to buy the house in which they were living at present.

Will the Government consider further mortgage schemes to allow first-time buyers to buy private and council houses? What steps have been taken to introduce mortgage schemes, such as the half-and-half mortgage and rental purchase schemes?

Will my hon. Friend make sure that in any survey carried out more attention will be paid to the fact that we do not want council houses sold or bought only by sitting tenants in the so-called good areas? We want them spread throughout the city including, if necessary, the so-called bad areas, where the price will be more attractive to the tenants.

That presupposes that we are going to embark on a policy of selling council houses. I have not said that, and we do not intend to do it. But I take into account that it would be completely disastrous if council houses were to be sold only in the so-called good areas.

Will the Minister at least give us an assurance that if a considerable number of councils are elected with Conservative majorities, on a clear and specific mandate to offer council tenants the right to buy their own homes, he will not frustrate that policy?

That raises wide issues about the extent to which the Government have the right to dictate or lay down policy to local authorities. We have encouraged local authorities and given them the maximum amount of freedom, but there is a matter of serious principle involved here because of public investment, and I can give the hon. Gentleman no such assurance.

14.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland how many council houses were sold to sitting tenants by district councils in the most recent annual period for which figures are available; and if he will make a statement.

24.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland how many council houses have been sold by local authorities in each of the past five years to the latest available date.

27.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what sales of council houses he has authorised; and how many he has refused to authorise in each of the past three years.

The information requested involves a number of figures, which I am publishing in the Official Report.

Will the Minister explain why, although the Question was tabled a fortnight ago, he is not prepared or, apparently, able to give the answer at Question Time today? Are not the figures absurdly low, given that more than half the people of Scotland live in council homes and that many council tenants will never have the right to become owner-occupiers unless the Government are prepared to encourage a scheme whereby they can buy their own homes at favourable prices?

I am merely carrying out the normal function of the House when there are a number of figures to be given.

If the hon. Gentleman reads the Question he will find that more than one figure is involved, because the Question refers to the past five years. Therefore, I am carrying out the normal convention.

As for the wider issue, I have already answered that point. It will be looked at in the context of the housing finance review and the Green Paper that we shall ultimately produce.

If the Minister were carrying out the normal conventions of the House he could surely answer the Question, because it refers to only one year. Would not that answer give an indication of the numbers involved? Are not the figures deplorably low, and a mere drop in the bucket compared with the total of council houses? Is it not true that the existence of owner-occupiers—where they could be created—would bring about a new social mix that would be extremely valuable in council estates and would save much money from maintenance on the rates? According to—

The right hon. Member will have his opportunity later, but I have the Floor now. According to the Glasgow Herald, 78 per cent. of Scottish people want council houses to be sold, so will the Minister, speaking on behalf of the Government, show a little more enthusiasm for this movement, which is in accordance with what the people want?

I am well aware that the hon. Gentleman regards all council tenants as second-class citizens. He is on record as having said that. I repeat that we are not against owner-occupation to the extent that it will help solve housing problems and achieve a better social mix. We shall look at the matter in a wider context.

If the Minister is not against the sale of council houses, will he say why he is not able to give me the number of applications that he has refused? If he is in favour of selling council houses, why has he refused any applications? If 80 per cent. of people want to buy their own houses, why does the hon. Gentleman not let them do so?

I am not refusing to give the figures. There is no secret. They will be published in the Official Report. The figures are consistent with the policy that we are now trying to operate—a policy of giving consent provided there are no lengthy waiting lists of people wanting accommodation.

As today's Press carries a report that Edinburgh District Council is putting a proposed sale to the Minister as a test case, will my hon. Friend confirm that he will regard the proposal on its own merits rather than as setting a precedent?

I know about this matter. If Edinburgh District Council is trying to be clever in putting up a test case in the hope that it will open the door, I say categorically that I shall not wear it. Obviously, if there are special circumstances regarding an individual house I shall look at the matter sympathetically.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the hon. Gentleman's refusal to answer a simple Question I beg leave to give notice that I shall seek to raise the matter on the Adjournment.

The following is the information:

Sales Authorised

1972
1973
197428
197551
1976195

Sales Refused

1972
1973
197430
1975105
197683

Sales Completed

1972645
1973744
1974171
197530*
197680*

* estimated

List D Schools

2.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what further representations he has had concerning the future of List D schools; and if he will make a statement.

A consultative paper on the future of the List D schools was issued on 9th December. Comments are still awaited from a number of bodies, and it will be some time yet before the consultations can be completed.

Is my hon. Friend aware that there is growing apprehension that a changeover from the education administration that is at present in operation may well result in the expertise of the educational provision built up over a period of years being lost, to the detriment of these disturbed young persons? Will my hon. Friend take further steps to avoid that sort of possibility ever happening?

This is one of the most important questions that we have in the consultative paper. My right hon. Friend is disposed to favour the recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Social Work that responsibility for the List D schools should be with social work committees and that responsibility for education within those schools should remain with education committees. He will be considering the representations of interested bolies in this respect.

Is the Minister in any position to indicate any progress on making List D provision in the Highland Region, where there is none at present:?

Some months ago I met a representative group from the Highland Region who put the case to me. I pointed out that under the present financial constraints it was not possible to meet their objectives, although we discussed the question of phasing. I am prepared to have fuller discussions with them if they wish to come back.

Will my hon. Friend take cognisance of the fact that elimination of voluntary effort within the National Health Service resulted in a lessening of the efficiency of the service, and will he seek to ensure that voluntary effort in List D schools is able to continue?

I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. In the consultative document my right hon. Friend has mentioned this matter and has said that the voluntary aspect for List D schools is welcome, especially in respect of the Churches.

Does the Minister accept the overcrowding in List D schools throughout Scotland, particularly in the central belt? Does he recognise the problem that this poses for parents and for the local populace, and will he do something urgently to increase the number of places in List D schools?

I am sorry to correct the right hon. Lady, but the reverse is the case. There is no crowding in List D schools. [Interruption.] All the comments that I have received are to the effect that there is under-occupancy. Up to 28th February last, in fact, the average rate of occupancy was 87 per cent.

Perth

3.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland when he next intends to visit Perth.

I was in Perth recently and have no present plans for a further visit.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that Perth has been a graveyard following several declarations of intent by both Labour and Conservative spokesmen about the future of self-government in Scotland? Does he agree that the only way in which self-government for Scotland can be obtained is via the SNP and no other group of whatever kind?

I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman. I think that meaningful devolution for Scotland can come only from a Labour Government.

Does my right hon. Friend not remember that on the last occasion he visited Perth to attend a Scottish Labour Party conference he gave sustenance and considerable help to the people of Scotland, to the tune of £35 million in assistance to the coal industry? Is he aware that the SNP has at no time displayed any interest in the coal industry or in the working class in Scotland?

I was glad to make that statement in Perth because it was the means of saving several thousand jobs for Scottish coal miners.

When the Secretary of State visits Perth, will he call in at the headquarters of the outstanding Scottish insurance company, the General Accident Company, and also at the offices of the chamber of comercc and ask representatives of industry and commerce in Perth whether jobs—[Interruption.]

Will he ask representatives of industry and commerce whether they feel that jobs will be more or less secure for their employees if Scotland breaks away from England?

I do not think that I need answer that question. We all know the answer. Clearly a Government in Scotland composed of the SNP would be disastrous for the Scottish economy.

Scottish Development Agency

4.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland how many new jobs have been created by the Scottish Development Agency since its inception.

I would refer the hon. Member to the reply I gave him on 10th November. The proposals subsequently announced by the agency in the factory and industrial investment fields will of course contribute further to the creation of new jobs.

Is that not a complacent reply from the Minister, in view of yesterday's unemployment figures? Is he satisfied with the progress made by the Scottish Development Agency? If not, what plans has he to improve performance?

Everybody is concerned about the unemployment figures. However, I must point out that in just over a year the SDA has announced three substantial advance factory programmes. There has been a great shot in the arm to engineering as a result of the agency's investment in Cummins Engineering, to the tune of £8 ½ million. The agency has joined with local authorities and others in important environmental schemes. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be the first to acknowledge the fact that the agency has helped small firms engaged in oil activities in his constituency.

Is the Minister aware that we are grateful for the work undertaken by the SDA, but that additional resources would make it a much more effective instrument for the redevelopment of the Scottish economy? Does he recall Mr. Lewis Robertson's statement that at a snap of his fingers an extra £100 million in resources could be obtained? Have those fingers yet snapped?

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would also wish to acknowledge his indebtedness to the SDA in respect of developments at Stonefield. That is one of the measures adopted by the Government, in addition to the announcement made by my right hon. Friend about coal burn, which will create additional help for miners.

Is the Minister aware that 80 per cent. more people are now unemployed than in the period three years ago when the Labour Government came to office? Is that not a condemnation of Government policy? When will those policies be reversed, so that we may see an upturn in confidence in commerce and industry?

There has been a recent announcement by Scottish companies that a figure of £2,500 million has been invested in Scotland. That figure embraces investments by BP, Cummins and other companies. The hon. Gentleman will wish to acknowledge his indebtedness to the agency for the advance factory programme in his constituency, in Newton Stewart, Stranraer and Kirkcudbright, and in respect of other developments.

Argyll

5.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what plans he has to tour the islands of Argyll in the coming summer.

Does the Minister appreciate that this decision will be regarded by the people in the islands and in Argyll as a tremendous let-down, because the increase in charges amounting to 25 per cent. this summer is aimed directly at the tourist industry? Does he agree that the only way in which we can solve this problem is by having a Scottish Government, and is it not disgraceful that conversations are taking place with Scottish Liberals to bring about some kind of deal tonight?

I am grateful to learn that the hon. Gentleman is anxious that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State should make a tour during this summer. If my right hon. Friend has an opportunity to do so on any visit he makes, I am sure that he will wish to discuss various problems with those concerned.

Scottish Tuc

6.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what discussions he has had with Scottish trade unionists concerning Government policies on devolution, unemployment and the Scottish economy.

I frequently meet Scottish trade unionists to discuss various matters affecting Scotland. For example, my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council and I met the STUC on 11th March, when devolution was the main topic.

Did the Scottish TUC ever ask the Government to make devolution an issue of confidence among Labour Members of Parliament?

No, it did not. However, I hope that the hon. Gentleman has read the interesting statement issued by the STUC yesterday on devolution.

When the right hon. Gentleman meets the STUC, will he discuss with it the fact that the Labour Government's economic and industrial policies have created 80 per cent. more unemployment and will reduce the level of Scottish production by nine points? In that case, what is meant by the phrase "Back to work with Labour"?

I shall be meeting the STUC again next month, when I shall address its annual conference. I am sure that if STUC members want to put any point to me they will do so on that occasion.

Will my right hon. Friend underline the fact that the STUC, in its statement yesterday, stressed the fact that because of unemployment problems all minority parties should support the Government this evening?

Yes, I can confirm that. I hope that the message will have been read and understood, and perhaps will even be acted upon.

In view of the interesting statement made by the STUC, is the Secretary of State aware of what that body said in December last in respect of further Government proposals leading to public expenditure cuts?

I have met the STUC on that matter. There is considerable understanding among STUC representatives of the problems facing the Government.

13.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland when he next plans to meet the STUC.

Does my right hon. Friend agree with the statement issued yesterday by the STUC warning the SNP that if it has the political stupidity and naivety to walk into the Lobby with the Tories tonight it will readily be classified by the people of Scotland as aiding and abetting the Tories in their efforts to return the most reactionary Right-wing Government since the 1920s, with no prospects of Socialism for Scotland and even fewer prospects of devolution?

I agree with my hon. Friend and congratulate him on putting that question in his characteristically moderate way.

When the Secretary of State next meets the STUC will he explain why, when the guillotine on the Scotland and Wales Bill failed, the Government did not immediately make that the subject of a vote of confidence in the House and so ensure that those Labour Members who betrayed Scotland so honour their manifesto commitment?

As I made clear in answer to an earlier Question, that matter is already being discussed with the STUC, which fully shares the Government's view. We also take the view that, as was pointed out in the statement yesterday, if a Tory Government were to be returned at any time it would shut the door on any possibility of meaningful devolution for a long time to come. I hope that the SNP, with its peculiar friends in the Lobby this evening, will weigh those words very carefully.

Does my right hon. Friend accept, as the House accepts, that the SNP wants not devolution but complete separation from the United Kingdom? Does he also accept that his recent announcement about the fuel industry and his giving of sustenance to the Scottish coal-mining industry is welcomed by the STUC, the miners, and everybody who has the Scottish working class at heart? Is he aware that if the Government are defeated tonight, the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sillars), plus the SNP, must go to the Scottish people and accept blame for the loss of that money?

I do not think that at this time of the day I should speculate on the consciences of individual Members tomorrow morning.

Does the Secretary of State agree that the STUC has in general agreed with and supported the Government on their economic policies over the past three years? As that has resulted in an extra 80,000 members of the STUC being put out of work, does he not think that it is time that he and the General Secretary of the STUC got together and decided to change the policy before more people are thrown out of work?

The General Secretary of the STUC is far more knowledgeable about the real needs of the Scottish economy than the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends will ever be, and that is why he supports the Government.

Prison Population

7.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what is the latest figure for the prison population in Scotland; and if he will make a statement.

On 8th March 1977 the population of Scottish penal establishments was 4,940. Subject to the limitations on public expenditure, my right hon. Friend is considering whether any measures can be taken to avoid unnecessary detention, particularly in the areas of remand in custody and imprisonment in default of payment of fine.

Does my hon. Friend accept that Members of all parties who visited Edinburgh Prison earlier this month very much appreciated the arrangements made for the visit? Is he aware that we were all impressed by how much more difficult the task of staff is made in caring for those who are necessarily in prison by the large number of those whose imprisonment may not be necessary? Surely my hon. Friend now accepts that community service orders have been adequately proved in England and Wales and do not require a separate pilot scheme in Scotland.

I place on record my thanks to my hon. Friend and members of the all-party group on penal reform for the interest that they are taking in the subject. If there is one good way to educate the public it is through all-party interest in what is a difficult and complex subject. I accept the latter point of my hon. Friend's supplementary question. I agree that it is unfortunate that there are people in prison who in other circumstances need not be there. As my hon. Friend knows, we are arranging for community service orders to be introduced in four of the regions of Scotland. We look forward with keen anticipation to that experiment.

Is the Minister aware that he has not answered his hon. Friend's question? The hon. Gentleman asked why it was necessary to carry out an experiment in respect of community service orders in Scotland rather than take the experience of the community service experiment successfully carried out south of the border. Will the Minister agree to drop the new experiment in Scotland and go ahead with implementing community service orders?

Community service orders in England are still at an experimental stage. We are examining what is happening in England. We shall apply any good results to Scotland. I believe that even the hon. Gentleman will agree that it is not always desirable to superimpose in Scotland something that happens elsewhere in the United Kingdom, whether it be England, Wales or any other part.

Does the Minister have any views on the future of Peterhead Prison? Does he have any plans to visit the prison—[Interruption.] This is a serious matter. Does he have any plans to visit the prison to discuss the situation with prison officers?

During last summer I took the opportunity to visit Peterhead Prison. I agree that the hon. Gentleman is making a serious point. There are difficult circumstances surrounding Peterhead Prison, especially in respect of the recruitment of prison officers, on account of its isolated situation. There are other related problems. As a result of the situation in penal establishments, Peterhead will remain a top security prison.

Scottish Assembly

8.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what sums have been spent to date on adapting the Royal High School for the purposes of a Scottish Assembly; and what further sums the Government propose to spend, and when.

Expenditure in the current financial year is expected to be about £900,000, of which £650,000 represents the purchase price of the Royal High School buildings. As regards the constructional works now going on there, I have nothing to add to the reply to the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat) on 1st March.

For how many more months are the Government to continue to pour money—I calculate at the rate of about £60,000 a month—into the Royal High School to house an Assembly that does not exist? Is there an intention to continue until the whole of the £4 million originally mentioned by the Lord President has been spent? Are the Government not in the position of someone pouring water into an empty vessel in the hope that one day it will turn into wine?

I am not an authority on empty vessels. I shall take the hon. Gentleman's word on anything about them. I am surprised by the hon. Gentleman's approach, because he knows that there are discussions and that the Government have a commitment to devolution. The hon. Gentleman knows that discussions are taking place between the Government and all the parties in the House. Against that background, it is incompatible for the hon. Gentleman to suggest that we should abandon the Royal High School project. The Government will go ahead with their commitment.

I fully believe that we shall have devolution and a devolved Assembly in Scotland, but will my hon. Friend be careful not to become too involved with the Royal High School? Does he agree that the Scottish Assembly should have the final word on the location of the Assembly buildings? We do not want another juggernaut grouping in Edinburgh, creating the need to start a dispersal policy.

One of the reasons for the modernisation and rebuilding scheme that we have undertaken at the Royal High School is based precisely on the point that my hon. Friend is making, namely, to leave the Assembly free to decide its permanent home. We have decided deliberately to go in for this rather modest scheme rather than the lavish scheme that some people thought we would go in for earlier.

Will the Minister accept the congratulations of the SNP Bench on the Government's initiative in finding this building and carrying out works to improve it to make it suitable for an Assembly? Will he ensure that the works are finished and that the building is kept well heated and in good order, as it will be necessary for a Parliament and not an Assembly after the next election, which we hope will be announced tomorrow?

If I were to begin to speculate about the results of the next election, which I do not intend to do, I should say that the hon. Lady will not remain a Member of Parliament—of any Parliament—after the next election. However, I accept the hon. Lady's congratulations, which would be all the more pleasant if translated into votes in the Government Lobby tonight.

Does the Minister appreciate that at a time of severe financial cuts in education, health and other essential services it seems somewhat extravagant to continue to spend money on the Assembly before any agreement has been reached or any legislation has been passed in this place? Does he realise that what Scotland needs is not more government but a change of Government?

I detect from that supplementary question that the hon. Gentleman has been infected by the same disease that affects his hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor). Having been an ardent devolutionist not so many months ago, the hon. Gentleman has changed his mind and seems to have become a bitter anti-devolutionist.

As for cuts in public expenditure, if the hon. Gentleman is to be any time in a Shadow position—I expect him to be a very long time in such a position—he must get his facts right. There is no cut in direct expenditure on the Health Service. The service will continue to grow, but at a reduced rate. We shall be spending more money on the service next year than we spent last year or in any other year. The hon. Gentleman should get his facts right.

Fishery Protection

9.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland how many fishing protection vessels and aircraft are currently available for Scottish waters; and what types they are.

For fishery protection duties in waters off Scotland, my Department operates six vessels, three of them inshore, and the Royal Navy deploys, on average, three ships, which may be of the Ton Class, the Island Class, or frigates. Aerial surveillance is provided by RAF Nimrods, which fly two or three patrols each week off Scotland. Additional support can be provided by the Royal Navy and by the Royal Air Force, as the occasion demands and as availability permits.

Will the hon. Gentleman consider stepping up surveillance, especially by aircraft? Is he aware that there appears to be widespread poaching off Shetland and that large quantities of white fish are being slaughtered as pout? Has he any comment to make on the criticism that I have seen that the new generation of fishery protection vessels may not be satisfactory?

If the right hon. Gentleman has any evidence of widespread poaching, I should like to have it. However, that is not my information. There is continuing examination of the effectiveness of the existing fishery protection fleet. The possibility of having to introduce new ideas within the framework of the CFP, the 200-mile limit, and all the other duties of enforcement that fall on the Fisheries Protection Service has been well advertised by the Government.

Does my hon. Friend agree with the generally held belief that more fishery protection vessels of a new design will be required? As I understand that a new design has been commissioned in the shipyard of Hall Russell and Company, in Aberdeen, I urge whoever is responsible to make a decision for the building of these craft as soon as possible.

I agree that my hon. Friend looks after the interests of Hall Russell and Company. I shall not go so far as to commit myself to any particular design. There will be more fishermen watching each other in the new set-up than ever before. That will be the most effective way of preserving law and order in respect of limits and quotas.

Does the Minister agree that the only way in which he can enlist the help of Scottish fishermen is by creating a 50-mile conservation zone in which only British boats are allowed?

I think that the hon. Gentleman should rephrase that question. As far as I know, the SNP is talking of a 50-mile exclusive limit for Scottish boats. That typical gross oversimplification is regularly made by the SNP. The situation is far too complex for that. Exclusive coastal belts are only one part of our strategy on fishing.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that better use could be made of surface vessels if there were an aerial flight every day of the week rather than two or three times?

Again, there is no evidence that existing arrangements are other than satisfactory. Indeed, the Select Committee and all other interested parties who have visited the area have been most impressed by the effectiveness of the present surveillance arrangements. If there should be any need for further flights, the matter can be reconsidered.

Despite what the Minister said to the hon. Member for Banff (Mr. Watt), may we take it that it is still the Government's intention, in spite of all the difficulties, to negotiate and aim for a substantial exclusive zone for British fishermen?

Yes, it is. I welcome the hon. Gentleman's interest in fishing matters, because I think that, like me, he will soon be convinced of their complexity. It is unwise to sloganise about 50-mile exclusive limits.

Alloa

11.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland when he next intends to pay an official visit to Alloa.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it not disgraceful that the Leader of the Liberal Party should not be here to ask Question No. 10?

Order. The only point of order that the hon. Gentleman can raise is in connection with raising the matter on the Adjournment.

In the town of Alloa there are two secondary schools—Alloa Academy and St. Mungo's Academy—which are split schools, the latter having no fewer than 12 separate teaching units. Is the Minister of State aware of the difficulties facing teachers in dilapidated classrooms and the anger of parents that promised extensions will not now take place? Will he investigate the situation and make his investigations known to the parent-teacher associations of both schools?

My right hon. Friend is aware of the position at Alloa Academy and will have noted the hon. Gentleman's comments about St. Mungo's Academy. No doubt he will get in touch with the hon. Gentleman direct.

When the Minister has finished looking at Alloa Academy, will he go on to Pitlochry and see the secondary school there, where the children have been taught in huts since the school was burned down in 1974? If the local authority is not required to insure the building, will the Government make funds available to put one up in its place?

I am gratified that the hon. and learned Gentleman should anticipate my right hon. Friend's visit. I have no doubt that if he cares to raise these matters with him direct my right hon. Friend will be able to satisfy him, as he often can.

Teachers (Superannuation)

12.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if the Scottish teachers' superannuation scheme will require to be amended to take account of the situation of teachers and lecturers in colleges of education who may be made redundant before the age of retirement; and if he will make a statement on his intentions in the matter of redundancy and compensation payments.

No, Sir. Payments under the Redundancy Payments Act 1965 are payable by employers. Compensation payments will be made under the Crombie Code and will be reduced on account of any redundancy payments.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that his reply will occasion some disappointment among the people who, in reply to advertisements only two years ago, came to our aid when we required teachers and lecturers in colleges of education? They are in a considerably exposed position, in view of the redundancy payments to be paid by the employers—the governors of various colleges. Will he have another look at this matter and take it as a matter of honour to treat them in as benevolent a way as possible?

I think that my hon. Friend must have misunderstood the position. The compensation payments under the Crombie Code are more generous than the normal redundancy payments.

Is it not ridiculous that we should be discussing redundancy payments for lecturers in colleges of education in Scotland? Does the Secretary of State accept that the people of Scotland would have more faith in the Scottish Office if it looked at ways of employing lecturers in Scottish colleges of education to make sure that Scottish education returned to the vanguard of education in Europe, where it was before the Labour Government took over?

There may be certain opportunities for extending the work of individual lecturers. I have already made it clear that there is no prospect of employing in colleges of education anything approaching the numbers that we have at present.

In relation to redundancy, what numerical estimate is the Secretary of State now working on?

How can the Secretary of State justify such a callous attitude to education and the teaching profession in Scotland when, in another act of appeasement to the Scottish NUM, he grants it an additional subsidy of £7 million a year and yet sets out to save £750,000 by closing four colleges of education?

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is against the subsidy arrangements that I have announced. If so, I hope that he will say so explicitly. It is not my wish that any particular employees in any part of Scottish industry or the Scottish educational system should be made redundant, but the fact is that there will be a contraction in the Scottish education system. That is unavoidable. I hope to make arrangements for dealing with that situation as humanly as possble. The payments under the Crombie Code are extremely generous by normal standards and I have taken steps to see that those generous payments will apply.

Marine Exercise Area (St Andrews-Tay)

15.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what representations have been made to him regarding the proposed marine exercise area between St. Andrews and the Tay upon which he has sought observations.

No observations have been sought by my Department on the use of this area. I have, however, received two letters indicating opposition to any proposal to use it for such a purpose.

Is the Minister aware that part of the area that is likely to be demarcated as an exercise area cuts across the approach route to Dundee Harbour? Will the hon. Gentleman give an undertaking that before a final decision is taken on the extent of the area he will ensure that the right of access to the harbour is not infringed?

Yes, certainly. The Department of Trade has sought the view of the Dundee port authorities. The basic purpose behind the examination is to help the fishing industry and to see whether there are any alternative areas that would cause less inconvenience to the industry.

Was there not a lack of consultation with the interests concerned before these proposals were put forward, and has not that caused much unnecessary alarm?

There has been no lack of consultation. No specific proposal has been put to the Scottish Office, as a fishing department, so far. The exercise has just started. I can assure the hon. Member that there will be wide consultations. If he has any particular local interest I shall ensure that it is heard.

Land Register

16.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will now set up a land register for Scotland.

I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman is waiting impatiently for me to say "No, Sir".

That is a disappointing reply. Is the hon. Gentleman aware that estates are changing hands in the Western Isles and other parts of the Highlands without the tenants having any knowledge of who their landlords are? Does the Minister realise that landlords are holding up housing development and impending developments generally? Is it not about time that people knew who owns the land upon which they live, in order that a start may be made on abolishing the whole rotten medieval system?

I sympathise with the problem and the point that the right hon. Gentleman has made, but a report is published each year that lists in alphabetical order all the land transactions for each county area. It is relatively easy for anyone interested to find out about the land transactions and to discover who is the landlord of any piece of land.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that 100 years ago it was possible to publish a land register of ownership? That information has been kept up to date since that time and is available to the Scottish Office, so cannot this Government do as well as Governments did 100 years ago and publish a list of those who own land in Scotland?

I do not know whether my hon. Friend is suggesting that we should compile a register of land title. If so, this is one of the aspects of land tenure reform that the Government are presently considering and I cannot make any commitment today.

Can the Minister confirm that since the sixteenth century there has been registration of land titles in Scotland in the Register of Sasines? Is it not about time that the members of the Scottish National Party got some more Scottish history into their heads?

I was explaining how we go about discovering who owns a particular piece of land.

Dunfermline (Hospital)

17.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement on the progress made with the plans to build a new general hospital in Dunfermline and district.

Since approval in principle to phase I of the West Fife District General Hospital was given in March 1976, the Fife Health Board has completed the relevant schedules of accommodation and a brief for the scheme. A development control plan for the site and the pre-design cost limit are now in course of preparation as the next stage in planning.

Does the Minister realise that there is continuing doubt in my area about whether the hospital will ever be started? Will he say whether the list of capital projects has been completed and whether the hospital is to be given priority?

The Government will publish in the next week or two the major building programme for hospitals in Scotland. I advise my hon. Friend to wait until it is published.

Kessock (Bridge)

18.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement on the tenders received for the construction of the new bridge at Kessock.

Tenders from the six firms which were invited to tender for the design and construction of the bridge were received on 21st March. They are being given detailed technical examination, and my right hon. Friend will make a statement when this is complete.

Does the Minister appreciate that this is a matter of utmost urgency and that the oil discovery by the Mesa Petroleum Company in the Moray Firth basin adds to the urgency? Will he assure us that since the decision was originally taken in 1971 there will be no further delays?

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the tenders that have just been received will be examined as quickly as possible.

Colleges Of Education

19.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland how many responses he has had to his Consultative Document on Teacher Training.

22.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement regarding the future of the 10 colleges of education in Scotland.

25.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland whether he will make a statement on the future of the Scottish colleges of education in the light of further representations he has received during the consultative period.

30.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement on the progress of the consultations with the teacher training colleges; and when the Government are likely to produce a feasibility study in this connection.

Of the 63 organisations invited to comment on the consultative paper, 50 have so far replied. My hon. Friend and I have had meetings with a number of interested bodies, and meetings are also being held between my Department and the colleges of education mainly affected by the proposals. I am considering all the views expressed and hope to be able to make a further statement reasonably soon.

It was extremely difficult to hear the right hon. Gentleman's reply. Will he indicate how many of the responses have supported the Government's proposals, because we suspect that none of the colleges accepts the proposals? When can we expect a final decision on the Government's plans on which colleges are to stay open?

There are some aspects of our proposals that are generally accepted, including, for example, the immediate question of the number of students to be admitted into colleges this year. It is no secret that many other aspects of the proposals have been criticised. One of the reasons why I want to produce final answers fairly quickly is to reduce the period of uncertainty.

Are we to have a revised consultation document laid before the House, with costings? When shall we be able to debate the consultation document, so that the House may vote and show its disapproval of the Government's proposals?

There will not be a consultation document, but I hope to give my conclusions on the matter in the next month or two.

Since the Secretary of State has suffered a humiliating rejection of his proposals by the House, in Committee, and by his own party conference in Perth last month, will he now remove the real concern that is felt by indicating that he will withdraw the proposals?

Does the Secretary of State accept that if he continues to refuse to do costings or to carry out a flexibility study on the measures affecting colleges in Scotland, no one in Scotland will believe that his consultations are anything other than a fraud?

I have not refused to do costings. I have said that I shall present the figures.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I thank the House for such a large turn-out for Scottish Question Time, but I assure hon. Members that it is quite belated and that it will have no effect on the way in which the Scottish people will vote.

The hon. Member knows that he should not use a point of order even to make a joke.

Scottish Law Commission (Legislative Proposals)

38.

asked the Lord Advocate concerning which further proposals of the Scottish Law Commission the Government intend to introduce legislation during the present Session.

Appendix III to the Eleventh Annual Report of the Scottish Law Commission, published on 1st February 1977, shows that only four of the 32 reports mentioned still await implementation. Bills to implement two of these four—dealing with presumption of death and avoidance of liability—are at present before Parliament. Furthermore, a Bill implementing the Eighth Report on Statute Law Revision of both Law Commissions, which is not included in Appendix III, is at present under consideration in another place. The Government do not intend to introduce legislation this Session to implement the two remaining reports relating to interpretation of statutes and liability for antenatal injury.

Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that much useful legal reform is still required in Scotland? In the present climate, could he not collaborate with other parties to see whether agreed measures might be brought forward?

I accept that there are still useful measures of law reform in the pipeline, particularly in respect of the studies that the Scottish Law Commission is making on aliment and financial provision, corporeal moveables and products liability.

It is also working on the law affecting minors and pupils, the law of evidence, bankruptcies and liquidations, diligence, private international law and the law of incest. Work on these subjects is continuing, but we are not yet in a position in which legislation could usefully be introduced.

Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman realise that there will be considerable disappointment in the North-East of Scotland that there are no proposals in the list to which the right hon. and learned Gentleman referred to deal with tenants at will? [Interruption.]

Order. Right hon. and hon. Members who come in to listen to Scottish Questions want to hear what is being said.

I am grateful for that warm reception for my question. Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that it would be more to the point to bring in legislation to deal with tenants at will than to introduce amendments to the law on incest and the other matters to which he referred?

I do not agree with the last point made by the hon. Gentleman. It is highly desirable that there should be a reform of the law of incest, but I have very much at heart the interests to which the hon. Gentleman referred. I have had correspondence and conversations with him on this subject. I hope that he will be a little patient, because the Government are endeavouring to meet this point, which, as the hon. Gentleman knows, is not without its complexities.

Violent Crime (Strathclyde)

39.

asked the Lord Advocate what additional staff he has had to recruit to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service in order to deal with the increase in crimes of violence in the Strathclyde Region.

The complement of the Crown Office has increased by four since 1976. It is not possible to quantify the extent to which this is due to the increase of crimes of violence in the Strathclyde Region. The complement of the Procurator Fiscal Service in the Strathclyde Region has increased by 45 since 1976. The main reason for this increase is the fact that procurators fiscal were given the additional task of prosecuting in the district courts.

As there were more violent deaths in the Strathclyde Region in the first few months of this year than there were in the whole Province of Northern Ireland, will the Lord Advocate urgently introduce the recommendations of the Thompson Committee and give the police in Scotland powers in respect of six-hour detention, search for offensive weapons, and any other activity that may assist in preventing crimes of violence?

The last part of the hon. and learned Gentleman's question is being considered by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and myself, as are all the recommendations of the Thompson Committee. In approaching these matters we have to weigh carefully the balance between individual rights and the liberty of the subject, on the one hand, and the very great need to prevent crime, on the other. In regard to the hon. and learned Gentleman's earlier observation, the information that he has repeated to the House came from a former convener of the police committee in Glasgow, who is now chairman of the criminal committee of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor). In examining deaths due to violence in the Strathclyde Region and comparing them with Northern Ireland, it is important to take into account the relative populations. The population of Northern Ireland is only about 60 per cent. of that of the Strathclyde Region, and I should stress that, although there are some indications that there will be an increase in the number of violent deaths in the Strathclyde Region, the trend in criminal violence generally appears to be downward.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that there will be an increase in public expenditure caused by the increase in the prison population that will inevitably come about after the next General Election when the hon. and learned Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Mr. Fairbairn) has to return to his former profession as Scotland's worst criminal lawyer?

As the Public Prosecutor, I ought, perhaps, to declare my interest. More seriously, the prison population is a matter of very great concern. As the Public Prosecutor and, therefore, the agent through whom a large number of people end up in prison, I am bound to recognise that we need to look at methods other than prison for the treatment of offenders.

Has the right hon. and learned Gentleman seen the report of the Strathclyde police, published this morning, which shows that despite a disturbing increase in crimes of violence the number of police in post in the Strathclyde Region in 1976 fell and that the force was 614 below strength at the end of the year? What are the Minister and his colleagues going to do about this deplorable state of affairs?

I have not seen the report, but I shall, of course, read it. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, within whose jurisdiction this matter lies, will no doubt take note of what the hon. Gentleman has said.

Bill Presented

Shops (Amendment)

Sir John Langford-Holt, supported by Mr. Geoffrey Rippon, Sir John Rodgers and Mr. Anthony Fell, presented a Bill to amend the Shops Acts 1950 to 1965: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 1st April and to be printed. [Bill 92.]

Penal Reform

Before we take the Ten Minutes' Rule Bill, may I tell the hon. Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Mr. Grocott) that there is nothing in the rules of the House requiring him to take ten minutes?

3.33 p.m.

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to reduce the size of the prison population by providing for alternatives to custodial sentences and by limiting the offences for which custodial sentences may be awarded; and for connected purposes.
When I put down the motion three weeks ago I had no idea of the enormous interest that this House had in penal reform. I am delighted by the attendance today. I hope that, in fairness to subsequent speakers, hon. Members will be quiet when they leave the Chamber after I have finished speaking.

I shall make this Ten Minutes' Rule Bill a three minute rule Bill. The objectives of the Bill are simple and long standing for many bodies associated with penal reform. The objectives are simply to remove minor offences from the punishment of imprisonment.

First, the Bill will remove from the punishment of imprisonment offences under the Vagrancy Acts, which concern people who sleep rough or act as tramps. Most people will agree that imprisonment is not an appropriate way of dealing with such offences. Although only a few people are sent to prison for those offences, my Bill will help to reduce the prison population in a small way.

The second objective concerns acts of simple drunkenness—if that is the right word. It does not include offences that connect drunkenness with any other form of criminal behaviour. About 50,000 people appear before the courts each year for being drunk. I submit that the public at large does not consider that alcoholism is a criminal offence. It should be the subject of other forms of treatment. I commend that objective to the House.

The third proposal in the Bill concerns people who are imprisoned for the non-payment of fines when the original decision of the court was that a non-custodial sentence should be imposed. It is wrong that such people should be sent to prison for the non-payment of fines unless there is overwhelming evidence of an unwillingness to pay the fine. I commend this short Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Bruce Grocott, Mr. Ivor Clemitson, Mr. Joseph Dean, Mr. Geoff Edge, Mr. John Garrett, Mr. Bruce George, Dr. Colin Phipps, Mr. George Rodgers, Mr. Brian Sedgemore, Mr. John Watkinson, Mr. Phillip Whitehead, and Mr. Ian Wriggles-worth.

Penal Reform

Mr. Bruce Grocott accordingly presented a Bill to reduce the size of the prison population by providing for alternatives to custodial sentences and by limiting the offences for which custodial sentences may be awarded; and for connected purposes; and the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 20th May and to be printed. [Bill 91.]

Her Majesty's Government (Opposition Motion)

3.35 p.m.

I beg to move,

That this House has no confidence in Her Majesty's Government.
The Prime Minister made it inevitable that this motion would be moved, first, when he dodged the vote on his own party's proposals last Thursday and secondly, when, unlike his predecessor, he refused to put down a motion in his own name to confirm confidence in his own Government. We have not necessarily thought of his predecessor as having high standards before but we think more highly of them now.

Then, on Friday we watched with great interest the performance of the right hon. Gentleman on television. He came out with a very good polished veneer. He came out with some very interesting phrases. He said that legislating is not necessarily governing and he went on to say:
"We govern as of right".
By what right? The right of a minority Government; the right of a supposed mandate based on 38 per cent. of the votes cast or 29 per cent. of the electorate? They govern by no right except the arrogant right of Socialism. The fact is that the Government have no credibility left. We know why the Prime Minister would not let his party vote last Thursday. He was afraid that he might be seen to lose, so he feared even to fight. Better to have voted and to have lost than never to have voted at all. But of course there was another reason—not only would he have lost, he could not have got all his party in the Lobby with him. It is true that the right hon. Gentleman has the support of the IMF. But having got the support of the IMF, he has lost the support of a large wing of his own party. He cannot have both simultaneously.

I ask hon. Members what the Prime Minister meant last night when he said,
"It is no use being a general of an army which does not follow you, is it?"
Sheep do not usually need generals.

Unless there is a General Election following, we shall go into a period of very great uncertainty. Whatever negotiations the right hon. Gentleman has, he can never be sure that he will get through either his legislation or his economic proposals. He can never be sure that any package would stick, because some of the people below the Gangway would unpack the package. Then it loses its balance, exactly as happened on the IMF bargain and exactly as happened when they tried to get more cuts on the capital side than on the revenue side because that is what suited them better.

The right hon. Gentleman could not even be certain of getting a Budget through because he would have to wheel and deal through the party and some things would be acceptable and others would not. Indeed, be admitted last night that if he carried on it would be a very uncertain Government, and he said,
"I think every vote is a cliff-hanger and bound to be as long as you have got this parliamentary situation."
Some way of governing—and very damaging to the interests of Britain as a whole.

The Prime Minister would go off to international conferences, perhaps held in London, in the morning. We are to have three Summit conferences soon—the economic conference in May, the Commonwealth Conference and the economic European Council. There might be negotiations on Rhodesia. He would speak for Britain in the morning and then come back in the afternoon to haggle for a few more votes to see whether he could get any of his policies through.

The fact is that this is a broken-backed Government, and that is highly damaging to our foreign relations policy.

Of course, the wheeling and dealing is not unusual for the right hon. Gentleman. That seems to be the way in which the ordinary business of the present Government has been conducted. We remember the resignation speech of the right hon. Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Prentice), when he said,
"too often we have made key decisions as a reaction to pressure rather than on the merits of the decisions."—[Official Report, 21st December 1976; Vol. 923, c. 517]
What an epitaph for the Prime Minister. He never made decisions on merits but only in response to pressure and wheeling and dealing.

Now we find the Prime Minister creeping cravenly around putting both wings of his party up for auction at any price. We ask whether he still believes in the Labour Party manifesto. Let us see what the Labour Party manifesto actually said about negotiations with other parties. It said:
"Why can't we accept the idea of a coalition to meet the nation's crisis? Because what our country needs in this crisis is a government with a clear-cut understanding of the nation's problems and the ability to decide quickly and effectively how to deal with them."
The Labour Party manifesto went on to say,
"A coalition government, by its very nature, tends to trim its policies and fudge its decisions; and in present circumstances that just won't do. If we believe, as we must, in our own independent political philosophies, there is no meeting point between us and those with quite different philosophies."
The manifesto went on to say,
"it would be a cruel farce to suggest that the future of the country would be helped by shuffling, compromising administration".

In early March 1974 when the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) was thinking of forming a coalition Administration, would the right hon. Lady have joined the Cabinet or would she have stayed out of it?

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would like me to read a little bit of our manifesto on the same subject. [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."] My right hon. Friend the Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath), unlike the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister, who goes against his manifesto, acted exactly in accordance with our manifesto when he said,

"After the election we will consult and confer with the leaders of other parties and with the leaders of the great interests in the nation, in order to secure for the government's policies the consent and support of all men and women of good will."
The difference is that my right hon. Friend was acting in accordance with his manifesto. The right hon. Gentleman has been acting flatly in the face of everything that he said. He has been going around all parties, a sort of Jim of all parties and master of none.

The truth about the present Government is that no make do and mend, no patchwork quilt of bargains, can cover their shabby, devious manipulations.

Not only are the Government in a minority. I am glad that the Prime Minister admits that they are in a minority and that he no longer has a majority to govern. We all know that the Labour Party itself is a meaningless coalition in which the deeply divided and mutually distrustful factions prevent each other from governing. We read in the newspapers great big dissertations from the two wings of the Labour Party, one in favour of Marxism as the basis for Socialism and one rejecting it completely. Therefore, we ask the Prime Minister where he stands. As usual, he does not stand anywhere.

The fact is that one of the wings, as the right hon. Gentleman and the whole House know, believes in the mixed economy and tries to make it work, albeit there might be some arguments about the mix. The other of the wings wants to destroy the capitalist system completely. Therefore, we do not know, and nor does anyone else, whether the basis of the Government's strategy is to restore capitalism to health or whether the basis of their economic and industrial strategy is an irreversible shift to the Marxist society by way of Clause 4. The two wings do not agree.

If one really cannot agree about one's economic objective, it is not surprising that one has a completely inconsistent and incompatible economic policy. If the objective is to restore capitalism to health, the right hon. Gentleman must have a policy to restore profits and profitability, because one cannot plough back into investment if one has not got the profits. Not only must the right hon. Gentleman have profits in order to plough back—he wants investment without the investors being able to get the benefit—he must also have profits able to be distributed. However, he put that policy to his party conference and it did not meet with overwhelming excitement or success.

If the policy is to restore capitalism, then the right hon. Gentleman must have a policy that restores incentives. But every time he tries to reduce taxation, someone will get up from his own Back Benches and say "Would it not be better if instead of cutting public expenditure and cutting taxes, the Government kept taxes up and increased or kept up the level of public expenditure?"

If the right hon. Gentleman is to have a policy of restoring capitalism to health, he must cut away many regulations and restrictions beloved of Socialism. But none of these things will suit the Left wing of his party. The Prime Minister knows it and everyone else knows it.

The Tribune Group may be quiet today. It may have gone on its annual holiday because the Government have gone for a survival strategy for the time being. But the problems are still there and they are unlikely to go away. The Tribune Group wants the Labour Party programme for 1976 and the Manifesto Group wants something as totally different from that as a free society is from a Marxist society. It is not surprising, when the Government cannot agree on their objectives, that their economic strategy makes very little sense and that their industrial strategy is full of contradictions and has never worked from the day that it was enunciated.

We cannot get a policy to back success—of course, success mostly backs itself and does rather better without Government than it ever does with it—by just switching from grandiose plans, by just switching off differentials and by disconnecting reward from effort. The right hon. Gentleman knows the trouble that one gets when one does, because he is having it now. One cannot ignore the morale of management if one is to get a successful industrial strategy and one cannot ignore the market.

But the right hon. Gentleman's strategy is a strategy in name only and it is failing in every particular. The economic indictment against the Government goes very far indeed. After three years—[Interruption.] The Government have hardly speeded up production, which is exactly what I was coming to. After three years of Labour we are nearly back to where we started. After three years the level of production is nearly back to where it was in February 1974, and that in spite of having nearly doubled public expenditure and in spite of having increased direct taxation to try to finance the level of public expenditure.

Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman would like me to go on with the catalogue? Perhaps he would like me to remind him—[Interruption.] I do not think hon. Members would. Perhaps they would like me to remind them that prices are up 70 per cent. although they claimed at the time that the social contract would beat inflation. Unemployment has rather more than doubled. One economic factor after another has testified to the total failure of Socialist economic policy in practice.

I know that the Prime Minister will read out a whole series of statistics, but I shall not do SO. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] I would have plenty to read out. Any hack lawyer or statistician on either side can cook up a whole lot just depending on the premises on which he started. I would make it quite clear that every improvement is welcome but that every setback is a cause for concern. Whatever statistics we read out, they will not mean very much to the ordinary people because they have already felt the effect in their pocket and in their daily lives.

We know that the Prime Minister will be full of easy and comforting phrases rather like "Steady as she goes". But the soothing syrup will inevitably come out rather like the family doctor whose reputation miraculously survives the death of whichever patient he is in charge of. But apart from the economic indictment of the Government, we have not been all that impressed with the Prime Minister's respect for the small print of democracy. We remember the way in which he deferred the Boundary Commission's proposals in 1969 for party advantage. We remember the devices on the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill. We remember the refusal on the Scotland and Wales Bill to consider an agenda for the Speaker's conference to include under-representation of Members of Parliament in England and grievous under-representation in Ulster. [HON. MEMBERS: "Ah!"] We anticipate with no sympathy the manipulations to get some Socialists elected to the European Parliament. What will the excuse be? Too late for the Boundary Commission to start to work?

Nor would we fall into the trap of judging the Prime Minister's policy by what he says about them. We remember vividly his speech in the education debate, but equally I remember, having been at the Department of Education for quite some time—that there was very little concern on the opposite side of the House for keeping up standards then. Even while the right hon. Gentleman talks of the debate to raise educational standards, we remember that he never provided parliamentary time to debate the report on "A Language for Life", the first Bullock Report, which was directly connected with educational standards.

Even while he said that, he was busy trying to demolish grammar schools based on selection by ability—wholly free schools open to all regardless of background. Perhaps one of the reasons why so many of our constituents have left support of the Socialist Government was put very well in an article called "Maligning Merit" in The Sunday Telegraph Magazine a few weeks ago by Mrs. J. B. Priestley, the author Jacquitta Hawkes, when she said:
"for me Labour showed that it had gone astray when it used meritocracy as a dirty word. My utter conviction that egalitarianism is wrong in theory and positively evil in practice has grown mainly from observing what is being done in its name today."
Her views are shared by many people.

But whether we regard Socialism by its economic record or by its other record, we find that in practice it has totally failed. It has been brought to a satisfactory conclusion. The only thing is that the Prime Minister now refuses to put it openly to the verdict of the people. If the right hon. Gentleman is now to say openly and publicly that he has abandoned his Socialism and his manifesto, what possible point can there be in a Socialist Government? If he does not say that, Socialism is in a minority and has no authority whatever to govern. But then the Prime Minister's next ploy is to start to attack the next Conservative Government. He represents it as somehing to be feared and with a notion almost akin to fear. How we would get in if we were feared is something of a mystery. We would get in only if we were wanted.

If the hon. Gentleman thinks that we would not get in, why does his Prime Minister not put it to the test? The reason he will not put it to the test is that he thinks that we would get in, and with a big majority. He knows from the opinion poll published in the Daily Mirror this morning that the majority of people want an election. It is because they want it and because he might lose it that he is unwilling to put it to the test.

It is not surprising that the Prime Minister takes months to screw up courage to have a by-election. We cannot have a Budget two days after every by-election—even on the Socialist record. Or perhaps it is very nearly possible.

The choice next time will be on the published documents between the Labour Party's programme published in 1976 and "The Right Approach" to which the Prime Minister seems to be thoroughly addicted. Both documents have been to party conferences.

Perhaps I might spell out a few points from "The Right Approach" as approved by the people of Workington and Walsall. [Interruption.] We shall wait for one or two other examples, and we shall be delighted when the Prime Minister moves the issue of the writs for some of the other outstanding by-elections, unless he is to move the writs for the whole of the 635. That would be the greatest test of all.

"The Right Approach", approved by the people of Workington and Walsall, spelt out our basic philosophy. If we are allowed to have a manifesto in time for an election, hon. Members could read it in even greater detail. In the meantime—we Conservatives believe in capitalism and democracy. There cannot be democracy, and there will not be democracy, unless there is a capitalist system. Hon. Members below the Gangway do not approve of it. They disagree with it. They would like to do away with capitalism.

However, we are very pleased that we have in fact got some support from hon. Members opposite who are not below the Gangway and who believe that, if individual freedom is to be safeguarded, economic as well as political power must be dispersed. They say:
"The only practicable alternative to a mixed economy of the Western kind"—
the capitalist system; that is my inter-polation—
"is a command economy on the Soviet or Eastern European model."
[HON. MEMBERS: "Read on."] I am quite happy to quote the lot; it is nearly all on my side.

We would also, unlike right hon. Members opposite, believe in maximum choice because with no choice there will never be a responsible society, and choice is being progressively diminished.

We would of course reduce the burden of direct tax. It would be too much to expect this Government to reduce it to where we left it. That would mean reducing direct taxation by some £4,000 million if people were to be left in the same position as they were when my right hon. Friend Lord Barber was Chancellor of the Exchequer.

We would of course expect hard work to be rewarded. This is what the people want. We would of course give more people a chance to own their own homes. This is what the people want. We would of course uphold standards and values, and the rule of law. That is what the people want. We would of course not carry out further schemes of nationalisation. People do not want those either. We of course would want the reduction of inflation to be our first economic priority, unlike in particular the first year of this Government which did so much damage to the economy as a whole.

We would reject utterly the divisive nonsense of class division upon which Marxism thrives. We have no class enemies. We do not think in those vindictive or outmoded terms. One of the commentaries when "The Right Approach" was published was very interesting. We had not quite expected the comment at the time. It was just automatic that we did not put anything in "The Right Approach" which is against anyone. Our philosophy is not against anyone. Our philosophy thrives on success, on improving housing, on raising the standard of living and on having it more widely distributed. Our philosophy thrives on believing that Governments are the servants of the people and not their masters.

Whether it be in factories, on farms or in offices, there is a widespread desire to see this Government go. The Prime Minister intends to try to cling to office by political cunning. Of course, I know that he likes power. He would hardly have put his name to a political ballot of he had not wanted the job, if he had not got an ambition for the job. There would be something very strange about any political leader who did not want to be leader or Prime Minister.

The Prime Minister is an expert—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear.'"]—in political wheeling and dealing, I was about to say. It is no substitute for political courage. Perhaps he should face the people's verdict and like a statesman face it now.

4.7 p.m.

I listened to the right hon. Lady's essay with considerable interest. It was a series of generalisations which, while certainly interesting, were perhaps not altogether novel. As her complaint against me and the bill of indictment built up minute after minute, until I was almost overwhelmed, I felt like repeating the immortal words of Adlai Stevenson" If the right hon. Lady will stop telling untruths about me, I promise not to tell the truth about her."

However, in the series of generalisations to which the House was treated I did not find any particular thread that led me to discover how the Conservative Party would deal with the issues of the day. At the end of the right hon. Lady's speech I was still not clear whether it was the policy of the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph) that would prevail on public expenditure. I was still not quite clear, on the matter of incomes policy, whether it was the good sense of the right hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) or the attitude of the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East that would prevail.

I have no idea what they would do about industrial strategy or securing industrial regeneration. Nor was there any indication of how they would see Britain's social progress. There was none of that. I say to those who are not just blind followers of the right hon. Lady that before they vote tonight they should consider what they are voting for as well as what they are voting against.

The truth is that since the events of last autumn there has been a new stability in the financial and monetary affairs of this country. It is true—reserves have risen by $3·7 billion in the last two months. We have successfully negotiated a safety net that has given stability to sterling. This is together with the $1·5 billion medium-term credit negotiated from the commercial banks on favourable terms, which indicates confidence in this country's future and in the Labour Government's policies.

In the last four months there have been more than £6 billion worth of sales of gilts to help finance our borrowing requirements. Interest rates are now down, with the minimum lending rate at a full two points less than it was when the Opposition left office of 1974.

Our domestic credit expansion is well within the target of £9 billion in a full year. Within the last year, the sterling money supply has increased by a little over 6 per cent. compared with 28 per cent. and 24 per cent. in the last two years that the Opposition were in office. If this situation continues, the home buyer can look forward to a reduction in building society rates of interest.

The growth of industrial output of 2 per cent. and of gross domestic product of 1 per cent. in the fourth quarter shows that the economy is now turning upwards. In the most recent three months exports are up and imports are holding level, with the current deficit reduced to £288 million compared with £518 million in the preceding three months.

Business confidence is on the upturn. The percentage of firms working below capacity is the lowest for two years and new orders for exports of engineering industries are up by 46 per cent. It was welcome news yesterday that unemployment has fallen again, as it has in each of the last two months. The fall last month, seasonally adjusted, was the biggest for four years.

The most welcome news is the fall in the number of unemployed school-leavers, from 208,000 in July to 42,000 in February and 34,000 in March. There are more vacancies for jobs—these are up by a third on a year ago. Our industrial relations record, due to the work of ACAS and the industrial relations legislation which was passed on the basis of conciliation and consent and not on confrontation, is the best for 10 years.

I will come to the matter of unemployment again in a moment. I cannot guarantee that this decline of the last two months will be continued in the next few months. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I see no reason for hon. Members to mock that statement, unless they are seeking only to make party points. The immensity of the task on unemployment is added to by the fact that at the present time the number of additional new entrants to the work force is about 150,000 a year. That makes the problem all the more formidable.

The world economy is still in a precarious state and the wrong decisions internationally could have serious effects on our economy and on those more vulnerable economies in the less developed countries. It is my hope that the Downing Street summit will achieve a unity of Western leaders in purpose and action. We must ensure a unity of action to prevent a trade war that will plunge the world back into an even deeper recession. We must ensure that there is unity of action to counteract unemployment, which is running at a rate of 15 million in the industrialised Western world. What kind of future are we offering to young people in the various industrialised countries if we tolerate these levels of unemployment as a permanent feature of Western industrialised society?

It will be vital in May to seek a new initiative for the Western world to help the less developed countries overcome their balance of payments problems caused by the increase in oil prices.

Does the Prime Minister think that it really helps less developed countries if we borrow $20 billion that would otherwise be available for development by them?

The two matters are not totally related. The future of the credit facilities for the less developed countries is something that is concerning the International Monetary Fund at the moment. Such calls as are being made upon it by Westeren industrialised countries will be offset by the creation of new facilities. We have a formidable agenda in front of us and this is something in which the whole future of society—whether it be capitalist, mixed, Socialist, or Marxist is at stake. Did hon. Members hear anything about this from the Leader of the Opposition today?

Britain is not isolated or insulated from the rest of the world economically. But, especially with North Sea oil coming in at a rate of 30 million tons a year—one-third of our requirements—our economy presents a picture of some encouragement for the future—I emphasise "some encouragement". That view is receiving endorsement by authoritative commentators throughout the world.

Last week, the OECD, in its annual review of the United Kingdom economy, said:
"Britain could achieve a rapid rate of economic growth compared with past levels and a steady rise in living standards over the next few years."
About this Administration it went on to say:
"As a result of the relatively novel approach"—
adopted by this Government—
"less heavily orientated than previously towards the short term, the economy could—for the first time since the 1967 devaluation—be able to break away from the vicious circle of the past."
That is the judgment of those who consider where the country has got to today, and it is a picture of some encouragement to the British people.

There are many problems ahead. Our position is baseed, as the right hon. Lady said, on the industrial strategy. That strategy is not just the strategy of the Government, as she always seems to think. It is a strategy that has the full backing of the TUC and of the CBI. So when the right hon. Lady attacks the industrial strategy she is not just attacking the Government, as she seems to think; she is attacking a policy agreed among these three major elements. It is recognised
"that sustained recovery is needed. For the troubles of our economy are by now long-standing and deep-seated. To make the structural changes that are necessary to restore the dynamic of a mixed economy will need a settled approach over a long, hard haul. The foundations of economic health will not be relaid in less than a decade."
Yes, that is from "The Right Approach". I have been quoting from it for some time, and right hon. and hon. Members opposite did not even notice.

Our policy is based not just on words but on a co-operative effort by Government, trade unions and management. So what can be done to regenerate our industry, since it is industry that will provide the basis for our future prosperity? I have described before what industrial sectors and firms are doing, and it is upon our industrial performance that the future of our standard of life and, indeed, the nature of our society will depend.

But that is not all. We recognise that our greatest national asset is the skill of our own people. That is why we have devoted over £180 million for training and retraining, created over 86,000 extra training places, and applied special measures to keep people in work. The £202 million spent in the last 20 months on the temporary employment subsidy has helped to preserve against the world blizzard 214,000 jobs, and we have also provided £130 million for the job creation programme, and introduced many other measures besides.

All round, the industrial strategy is blessed by representatives of both labour and management in industry. What would the Opposition do, for example, about the 40 sector working parties now going through their own industries, firm by firm to see how industrial efficiency can be increased? What would the Opposition do about the selective aids which are now going to vital industries such as machine tools, machinery, foundries and electronic components, where thousands of jobs are involved? We know what the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East would do: he would have them out on the stones next week.

Will the Prime Minister tell us where the money that the Government are spending to sustain some industries is coming from except by destroying other jobs by over-taxing, over-borrowing and printing money?

Did I hear the right hon. Gentleman say "printing money"? I have always known him to be an honest man, even if it costs him a great deal, but, really, he knows better than that. What has he to say for himself? "Printing money"? I shall answer him. I would sooner that taxation was a little higher and 200,000 people were kept in work than pursue the policy of abolishing all the subsidies and putting those people on the dole.

I hoped that the Leader of the Opposittion would spell out, as her leading spokesman is opposed to this policy, what she would do. What would she put in place of our policy? What would she do to regenerate industry? How would she create the jobs? Would she get rid of the temporary employment subsidy? These are questions that people will be asking the Conservative Party, and we have no idea of what the Conservative policy is in any of these areas.

I turn now to the question of prices because prices are one of the key issues. Last year, with the co-operation of the trade unions, we had good success, and inflation came down to under 13 per cent. There have been set-backs since then, and it is right that the country should know the reasons and what the Government are doing to try to ensure that these set-backs do not recur.

Last summer, when the pound came under heavy pressure in the currency markets of the world, the sterling prices of our imports rose, and we are still seeing the effects, although, as I have said, the value of the pound is now stabilised. It will still be a few months before the benefits of the more stable pound are seen in the shops, but already the benefits are coming through for our wholesale prices.

In the last three months input prices rose by only 2¼ per cent.—a very low figure. In a few months' time we shall be seeing the effect on the prices of goods in the shops, and the latest forecasts indicate a good prospect that by the end of this year inflation will be below the 15 per cent. estimated last December. Indeed, the latest forecast by the OECD, published last week, predicted a rise below 12 per cent. at an annual rate in the second half of the year.

But no Government could guarantee that, because the prices of many of the goods in our shops are dependent on factors right outside any Government's control. Last summer's drought put up food prices by 6 per cent. or more, and, as the House knows, world commodity prices are outside the Government's control. Indeed, world prices in dollar terms are currently more than 50 per cent. up on 12 months ago, and there have been particularly steep increases in the price of coffee, which has trebled, and that of tea, which has increased by two and a half times on the commodity markets.

We have seen some glimpses of what the Opposition's policy is on these matters. I shall take the House into my confidence in case they have not caught everyone's attention. The hon. Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Scott-Hopkins) told my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture on 16th March that he failed to understand why my right hon. Friend was unwilling to accept the package of the Commission in Brussels and devalue the green pound by 5·9 per cent. The effect of that would be to increase food prices in this country by 1¼ per cent. at a stroke—immediately—if my right hon. Friend accepted that misguided advice.

What about the hon. Member for Cleveland and Whitby (Mr. Brittan), who I am glad to see has now been promoted to the Front Bench? His view is that there is a powerful case to be made against price controls altogether. Is that the policy of the Opposition? Is it?

The Opposition seem to be a little confused. They are not quite sure whether their policy is to get rid of price control or to maintain price control. We shall give them the opportunity of making up their minds. They can vote for our new prices Bill when it is brought to the House in a week or two's time. Let us see where they stand. Let them give us a clear indication.

We cannot achieve success—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—Conservative Members are very sharp today—we cannot achieve success without ensuring other policy considerations and unless we take into account four elements. The Opposition should have told us where they stand on these elements.

First, we need a stable currency. Secondly, we need a new incomes agreement. Thirdly, we need increased competitiveness and efficiency in British industry. Fourthly, we need Government intervention against unjustifiable price increases and profit margins.

The Opposition will soon have the chance to stand up and be counted. The Government will be introducing a new prices Bill. The new policy will be based on profit margin control, subject to safeguards, for firms in manufacturing, services, and distribution. This will replace the detailed, over-restrictive and outdated cost controls written into the Price Code that we inherited from the last Conservative Government.

The Price Commission will be given new powers to investigate and, if necessary, to disallow specific price increases anywhere in the economy. These changes will greatly increase the flexibility and efficiency of our system of price control. Are the Opposition in favour of this or are they against?

I pass now to the future of this Parliament.

Before the Prime Minister leaves the subject of prices, is it not really time that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had the courage and the decency to admit to the British people that his claim that inflation was running at 8·4 per cent. at the October 1974 election was utterly and totally fraudulent? If the Chancellor will not do that, what can his credibility be for the future?

The right hon. Gentleman will have the pleasure of hearing my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer introduce his Budget next week.

I turn for a moment to the future for us sitting in this House. First and foremost, the Government intend to use the time ahead to carry through our economic and industrial strategy. The various indicators to which I referred earlier all point perhaps for the first time for a generation, to the possibility of at last securing steady and sustainable economic growth in this country, with a stable currency, a surplus on the balance of payments, strict control of monetary policy, falling rates of interest, declining price inflation, a rising rate of investment in manufacturing industry, continuing industrial peace, tax reforms and a lower burden of personal taxation. On these foundations we shall build the growing prosperity of our people.

We shall use the time of this Parliament to plan how best to distribute the fruits of success of our economic policy and to maintain a proper balance between the needs of the public services and the wish of the private individual to have more real income in his pocket to spend. It will require planning. I tell the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition that this cannot be left to the brutal dictates of the laissez-faire market; nor can it be frittered away in current consumption. The future strength of our industry must be secured through investment in our industrial strategy. We shall plan not only the regeneration of our industry but that of our great cities, to eliminate ghettos of poverty and racial tension. We shall see these policies through.

It will need the co-operation of all our people. The social cohesion that we have maintained through these last few difficult years was possible only because we were able to win and hold the trust of the working people of this country.

We do not know where the Opposition stand on any of these major issues. We do not even know where they stand or whether they would try to get another voluntary incomes policy. But we know that without the voluntary co-operation of the British working people the whole of our recovery and the fight against inflation would be entirely jeopardised. There is only one way, that of conciliation and consultation, preserving the cohesion and consensus in our society, of which the Opposition were once rightly proud but which in recent years they seem to have deserted.

This Government follow these objectives and have pursued them successfully during the past three years and will continue to do so in the remaining years of this Parliament.

Order. If the Prime Minister is not giving way, the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) must sit down.

Much else remains to be done. I have already referred to the need to co-ordinate the responsibilities of industrialised countries to our global economic problems, and I gladly welcome contributions here.

I shall say one other thing about the vote tonight and the attitude of the Opposition. There are hon. Members on both sides of the House who have a deep and genuine concern about the problems of East-West relations. Perhaps the biggest fear that we have is over whether we shall maintain peace or drift into war. The problems are those of nuclear proliferation, of who holds nuclear weapons, and of whether we endeavour to live in relative amity with those who hold an entirely different philosophic view about the organisation of society.

If we cannot learn to live with them, we shall certainly die with them.

Against that background I ask the House to consider whether the right hon. Lady, the Leader of the Opposition, contributes to detente and relations with the Soviet Union. The Opposition's domestic policies are mirrored in their international policy which, where it is specific, is dangerous, and on many major issues and crucial areas of international economic co-operation it is totally non-existent. It is against this background that we have been conducting conversations to see on what basis these general policies should be continued.

The conversations have taken place with many people. We have been anxious to discover whether there is sufficient identity of interest to enable the general policies that I have outlined to be continued. There is no doubt that the Government, half way through the life of this Parliament, wish to see that the policies which are being followed—they are not pleasant policies, and they are not intended to be pleasant—shall be followed through resolutely.

We have had discussions with the leaders of the Ulster Unionist Party. It is not my intention to go into any detail on this except to say that I am impressed by the case that has been made by the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) and by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) who accompanied him on the matter of the number of seats and the under-representation of Northern Ireland in this House. I indicated to the hon. Gentleman—and I hope that he will not mind my saying this—that, irrespective of the way in which he and his colleagues vote tonight, it is my intention, with the consent of my colleagues, to refer to a Speaker's Conference, if you will care to preside, Mr. Speaker, the question of the representation of Northern Ireland.

The hon. Member for Antrim, South has made no bargain with me about that. I have no idea how he intends to vote, but I told him and I repeat here publicly what I intend to do.

If the right hon. Gentleman feels that these are changes that should be granted to the Ulster people now why did he not grant them years ago when we were pressing for them in this House?

There has been considerable debate about that—[HON. MEMBERS: "Bribery."]—but the latest reason is that the House was genuinely waiting for the result of the devolution discussions and for what would happen—[Interruption.] The Conservatives may not like it, but it happens to be the simple truth.

The Lord President and I have also had talks with the Leader of the Liberal Party.

I am grateful to the Prime Minister. His talk of bargaining over seats in Ulster is a part, albeit an unattractive part, of the political deals that go on. Will the right hon. Gentleman take this opportunity categorically to deny that any deal was offered or mentioned concerning the movement of two battalions of troops to Ulster as part of a political settlement? Will he confirm that this was no part of his discussions, because to use British troops as a political pawn in this chess game would be utterly disgusting?

It only goes to show that second or third thoughts are best, and I am glad that I gave way to the hon. Gentleman. I am sure that the hon. Member for Antrim, South will not mind my saying that at no time in our discussions did any questions of this sort come up and that the hon. Gentleman and myself would have regarded it as insulting if we had endeavoured to bargain on that basis.

I am grateful to the Prime Minister for giving me this opportunity for denying that any such point was raised at any time. I think that we would both view any such report with contempt. May I also say in fairness to the Prime Minister that all our discussions were conducted on the basis that there could be no concession or sacrifice of principle on the part of either of us?

I was saying that my right hon. Friend the Lord President and I had discussions with the Leader of the Liberal Party and with the hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Pardoe). It is our view that there is a sufficient identity of interest between us at present to establish some machinery that will enable us to consult each other about future developments in this Parliament—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] We therefore—[An HON. MEMBER: "Sing it again."]

Order. The House knows that I cannot see behind me, but I can hear. I hope that whoever has been shouting at my left ear will stop doing it and go away.

You have no idea how much you have relieved my mind, Mr. Speaker. I thought that it was you shouting at me.

We have therefore agreed to establish some machinery to keep our positions under review and we intend to try an experiment that will last until the end of the present parliamentary Session, when both the Liberal Party and ourselves can consider whether it has been of sufficient benefit to the country to be continued—[Interruption.] I am very happy to see the Opposition applaud this new-found stability in Parliament. It will give this Administration the stability it needs to carry on with the task of regenerating British industry and of securing our programme.

We therefore intend to set up a joint consultative committee under the chairmanship of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. This committee will examine policy and other issues that arise before they come to the House, and of course, we shall examine the Liberal Party's proposals. [Interruption.] I think that Conservative Members should listen to this, because their fate may depend upon it.

The existence of this committee will not commit the Government to accepting the views of the Liberal Party, nor the Liberal Party to supporting the Government on any issue. There will, however, be regular meetings between Ministers and spokesmen of the Liberal Party including meetings, for example—which have already begun—between the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Liberal Party's economic spokesman.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it not a well-established practice that Budget proposals are not divulged to anybody in advance? May we be assured that that practice will not be set aside in this relationship between the Government and the Liberal Party?

That is not a point of order. I suggest to the House that we shall not know more unless we listen.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of what the Prime Minister has lust said, may we take it that the next Liberal Party spokesman will be speaking from the other side of the House?

Order. I warn the hon. Gentleman that he has been extremely discourteous to me. I warn hon. Members that unless they resume their seats when I stand up and call for order, I shall order them out of the Chamber. I know the importance of the vote tonight to both sides, but the House must treat its Speaker with courtesy.

No. I know that there were complaints about the reception that the right hon. Lady received, but it has been repaid a thousand fold by the Opposition during the last half hour.

In addition, the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Liberal Party will meet whenever necessary to discuss these matters. [An HON. MEMBER: "What does that mean?"] It means exactly what it says—that we shall meet for discussions.

The issue of direct elections is a difficult one. I have already indicated that the Government will be presenting legislation on direct elections to Parliament in this Session, for direct elections next year. The Liberal Party has reaffirmed to me its strong conviction that a proportional system should be used as the method of election.

Next week the Government propose to publish their White Paper on direct elections. As hon. Members will find, that will set out a choice among different electoral systems, but it will make no recommendation. The purpose of doing that is to enable the Government to hear the views of the House on these matters, but, in view of the arrangement that I now propose to enter into with the Leader of the Liberal Party, there will be consultation between us on the method to be adopted, and the Government's final recommendation will take full account of the Liberal Party's commitment. [Interruption.] I do not know whether Conservative Members think they are disturbing me, but I promise them that they are not. I could go on for a long time.

To come back to the White Paper, whatever the final recommendation on these matters, it will be subject to a free vote of both Houses of Parliament. As far as the Government are concerned, all hon. Members will be entitled to vote in any way that they think fit.

The Leader of the Liberal Party put to us very strongly, though it was hardly necessary to do so because we are agreed about this, that progress should be made on legislation for devolution, and to this end the Liberal Party has today submitted a detailed memorandum to us. Consideration will be given to that document and consultations will begin on it, and in any future debate on the devolved Assemblies and the method of representation—for example, proportional representation—there will be a free vote.

The House has no doubt forgotten, but there was the Housing (Homeless Persons) Bill which I recommended to the House during the Queen's Speech, but for which time was not able to be found, so the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) took over the Bill and with some Government assistance has been endeavouring to put it through. We shall provide extra time to secure the passage of that Bill.

The Local Authorities (Works) Bill will be confined to the provisions that are required to protect the existing activities of direct labour organisations, in the light of local government reorganisation.

That, together with the fact that we agree that this should be made public, represents the contents of the discussions that have gone on between us. They will give the Government the opportunity of maintaining a stable position while they carry through their economic and social policies. It will enable us to take away what the right hon. Lady thought was a weakness, and that is the instability of the Government not knowing from day to day what will be the position of the Opposition. We shall now be able to overcome that, and for that reason I am certain that this is in the national interest.

It seems that my right hon. Friend and other members of the Cabinet will spend a great deal of their time and energy in future consulting the 13 Members of the Liberal Party. Will my right hon. Friend give a categoric assurance that there will be equal and if necessary better consultation with Back Bench Members of his own Parliamentary Labour Party, because we carry more weight in this Parliament than do the Liberals?

My hon. Friend is quite correct. As he will know and as the Opposition do not know, in recent weeks there has been correspondence between the Liaison Committee and the Chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party and myself and my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House in which we have overhauled the whole process of consultation with the Parliamentary Labour Party. As my hon. Friend knows, this was not to be published, but the new machinery was reported to the Parliamentary Labour Party meeting two or three weeks ago when I was present, I believe that my hon. Friend was there, too. It was unanimously accepted as being appropriate and suitable to enable the views and opinions of the Parliamentary Labour Party to be borne in upon the Government before legislation was introduced. I thank my hon. Friend for enabling me to make that clear.

I am grateful to the Prime Minister for giving way; he has given way a great deal this afternoon. I come back to the Liberal Party memorandum on devolution. Would not my right hon. Friend agree that the main problem about devolution has been and always will be the timetable motion? If the Liberal Party suggests that that should be a vote of confidence issue, we all know that the problem about the future of a timetable motion, as with the one on 22nd February, is the Labour Party's own Members of Parilament.