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Prime Minister (Engagements)

Volume 930: debated on Thursday 21 April 1977

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asked the Prime Minister whether he will list his official engagements for 21st April 1977.


asked the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for 21st April.


asked the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 21st April.


asked the Prime Minister if he will list his public engagements for 21st April.

This morning I presided at a meeting of the Cabinet. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall be holding further meetings with ministerial colleagues and others.

Has the Prime Minister had time to study today's statement by the Chairman of the National Coal Board? Why should the Secretary of State for Energy be allowed, first, to overrule the Price Commission by pushing up the price of gas and then to push up the price of electricity by compelling the Central Electricity Generating Board to commission a power station in excess of its needs, when all this is at the behest of the coal miners, whose response to the nation's needs has been to produce 6 million tons less last year?

I understand that there is a Private Notice Question on this matter. Therefore, I do not want to anticipate the answer that my right hon. Friend will give. In all these matters we as a community have to have regard not only to electricity requirements but to the future of the power plant industry, as well as to the future of the mining industry. They are all intertwined, and it is not easy to separate one issue which may be of particular concern to the electricity board. The Government must take the whole complex into account.

Will my right hon. Friend find time today to explain his remarks yesterday about the cynicism of the Press? Was he referring to that prizewinning cynical jackass, Andrew Alexander, or was he referring to that wonderful wizard of the Sunday Times, Tony Holden, who flies all over the Eastern Hemisphere with the Leader of the Opposition and reaches the heights of journalistic magic by managing to turn the cast-iron maiden into a rather cracked china doll?

I was making a general remark—not directed at the Press or at politicians—which I think is true, namely, that there is a degree of cynicism about almost anybody who is in public life, that no action is undertaken which does not have a hidden and unworthy motive, that everything done has something behind it, and that nothing altruistic is done by anyone in public life. That is very damaging to us. However, I was not referring to anybody in particular.

If my right hon. Friend can find the time today, will he spend some time re-reading the leaflet "Britain's New Deal in Europe", which was circulated by Her Majesty's Government to every family in the United Kingdom? Since that leaflet contains no reference to direct elections and concentrates on stressing the importance of veto powers in protecting Britain's sovereignty inside the EEC, will he tell us how he can justify his statement on Tuesday that a "Yes" vote in the referendum was a vote for direct elections?

I should prefer not go into that just now, because we are in the middle of a two-day debate in which the Government's attitude is being defined. Supplementary questions are not the appropriate occasion to go into the matter. [Interruption.] If the Houses wishes to spend 15 minutes on the matter, I am quite happy, but normally, Mr. Speaker, you like to separate Question Time from debating time on these matters.

If there is keenness and anxiety on the matter, let me say that it is clearly written into Article 138 that we shall move to a system of elections. That was explained—and, indeed, opposed—at the time, and the Government have entered into a commitment with the eight other Heads of Government to have direct elections. This House could overturn that decision, but it would be very ill advised to do so, because it would go far wider. When the Government have entered into a treaty commitment or something approaching a treaty commitment—both those being true in the sense that we have now agreed to the Treaty of Rome after the referendum—for the House to overturn the Government on this commitment would be a very serious matter in our international relations on a great many other issues, which would go far wider than the Community. It is for that reason, among others, that I shall use my best endeavours to see that a Bill is produced for consideration by the House.

No doubt the Prime Minister will be devoting some thinking time today to the subject of devolution. Will he now confirm or deny without equivocation that the Government are considering introducing two Bills, one for Scotland and one for Wales, as advocated all along by the Opposition?

I do not take any responsibility for stories that appear in the Press, and I am not required to answer from the Dispatch Box for them However, the Government's policy on the matter is clear. We are committed to devolution, both for Scotland and for Wales.

Did the Cabinet at its meeting this morning reach any clear decision whether to table a motion for Monday's business to enable the House to arrive at a specific decision on the kind of electoral system for direct elections in Europe? Does the Prime Minister not think it appropriate to do that after a full two days' debate, when he has already promised a free vote on his side and when there will be a free vote on the Opposition side?

Not on Monday, I gather. [Interruption.] Well, I have to take my instructions.

Although I do not normally discuss the business of Thursday morning Cabinet meetings, I can confirm to the right hon. Lady that we did discuss this matter this morning, and I was reminded then, as I have been reminded again, that what we undertook to do before the debate was that the Government would listen to the views of the House and would then come forward with a proposition in due course. That we shall adhere to. Although I considered a point put to me by the hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon), which superficially had its attractions, I think that we must stick to the original intention that we conveyed to the House some weeks ago.

Why are the Government afraid to reach a specific decision on Monday night? It would save time in the drafting of the Bill. Why is the Prime Minister afraid to allow Parliament to express its opinion at the end of a full two-day debate? It is not surprising that both the Press and the public are cynical about the powers of Parliament if the Prime Minister refuses to allow us to reach a decision.

I promise the right hon. Lady that the decision has nothing to do with fear; it has to do with the undertaking that was given. We undertook to listen to all the views put forward in the House. There is not agreement on this matter, and we had better wait and hear what the result is at the end of the two days. [Interruption.] I fully understand that the Opposition are in considerable difficulties on this matter. Let me add that the Opposition are not alone in this matter, but it might be more helpful if the right hon. Lady were to admit her difficulties as I admit mine.