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Leader Of The Liberal Party

Volume 929: debated on Thursday 7 April 1977

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I refer the hon. Member to the Reply that I gave to the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) on 5th April,

When the Prime Minister does next meet the right hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel), will he discuss with him the operation of the closed shop? Will he remind the right hon. Gentleman that all the Liberals voted against the Second Reading of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Amendment) Act?

I would be happy to discuss any of these matters at any time, even with the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow). The Tory attitude towards the closed shop is fairly clear, as is the Government's. We believe that this is an industrial matter, to be settled industrially. The hon. Gentleman does not do much good to industrial relations by constantly scratching away at this point.

As my right hon. Friend is constantly being sniped at about the arrangements, will he take note that many of us on the Government Benches have had very large postbags overwhelmingly in favour of them from our own supporters, as well as from dispassionate observers of the British political scene, although we note that there is nothing in the agreement that prevents the Liberal Party from occasionally making a fool of itself?

I know that there is a continuing interest in the matter, and I draw attention to the fact that what is upsetting the Conservative Party is not the fear that the Government are going to fail but the fear that we intend to succeed, as we shall.

Is the Prime Minister aware that if he chose to visit Rox-burgh, Selkirk or Peebles, he would be warmly welcomed there during the Easter Recess? In particular, we would be very happy to discuss with him the problems, for example, of rural transport at first hand, on the ground, in advance of the Finance Bill debates. Is he further aware that one of the reasons why the Conservative Party is nervous on this sort of question is that various Tory leaders, including the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph), who is deputising for absent friends today, visited my constituency at the time of the by-election? While we were learning the lessons of history, I suddenly realised that James II was killed by a big gun backfiring at Roxburgh—and that happened during my by-election, as well.

I have the happiest recollections of visits to Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles. They are most beautiful spots, and I would be happy to go back at any time. Indeed, I should be ready to join the right hon. Gentleman in opening some of the new advance factories which, I am glad to say, are now being built in his constituency.

Is the Prime Minister aware that what is upsetting the SNP about the Liberal-Labour pact is the fact that there is no election, because in an election the SNP will sweep the board in Scotland? May we learn just a little more about the nature of this pact? The Prime Minister will have heard the answer of the Leader of the House about running conversations, as if they were happening all over the place, but he well knows that the only running conversation that the Leader of the House had with the SNP was a request to introduce the SNP Bill, to which the right hon. Gentleman said "No". If these are running conversations, may we learn a little more—

In conclusion, Mr. Speaker, when did the Prime Minister last meet the Leader of the Liberal Party? Where did he meet him, in what circumstances, when will he meet him again, and how often?

The answer to all those questions is that I do not intend to make announcements on these matters, either to the hon. Lady or to anyone else.

Does my right hon. Friend also recall that when the flying bombs descended on London in June of 1944 Dr. Goebbels announced that the whole British Government had fled in a panic to Roxburgh? Is he also aware that that report proved to be wholly unfounded?

Yes, and I hope to assure my right hon. Friend that the myth will not repeat itself, although I should hope always to see the right hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel) here in the House of Commons.

Will the Prime Minister tell the right hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel) and his constituents that the Labour candidate in the last election in that constituency received only 8 per cent. of the votes cast? Will he explain to the other 92 per cent. of those constituents why, having voted against having a Socialist Government, they find that their Member is supporting one?

Those would be interesting reflections, but I should also want to acquaint the electors of that delectable constituency of the fact that the hon. Gentleman was dismissed from his own Government for sheer incompetence.