Q1. Mr. Lawson
asked the Prime Minister if he is satisfied with the progress being made in implementing the policies set out in the Queen's Speech.
The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Edward Short
As the House knows, my right hon. Friend is attending a meeting of the European Council in Luxembourg today and tomorrow and, in his absence, I have been asked to reply.
I am sorry that the Prime Minister cannot be with us today, if only to wave the pound goodbye. Is the Lord President aware how sad it is that someone who began as a tour de force should have ended up forced to tour?
The hon. Gentleman asked what progress we were making in implementing the policies set out in the Queen's Speech. Of the Bills mentioned there, four have already received the Royal Assent, 13 are before Parliament—some having made substantial progress—and the remaining Bills are due to be introduced slowly—I am sorry, I should have said “shortly” .
The Queen's Speech referred to improving the common agricultural policy. What progress has been made in that direction?
Perhaps I may explain that I meant to say that the Bills would be [column 1571]introduced quickly—very quickly, and certainly before Easter.
On my hon. Friend's supplementary question, I have no doubt that my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary will be raising this matter in the European Council in Luxembourg today and tomorrow.
Mr. Gwynfor Evans
On devolution, is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the significant improvements that have been suggested for Wales in spite of pressure from the Welsh TUC? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that Wales will not long tolerate a status inferior to that of Scotland?
We have received hundreds of submissions from a great many bodies throughout the country, including an excellent one from the Welsh TUC. We shall take all these into account before publishing the Bill.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Scottish Labour Party conference may have made some suggestions for what it regards as improvements, but that it is totally opposed to any separation from the United Kingdom; and that it is as keen and dedicated to remain part of the United Kingdom as are the rest of us.
I am glad that my hon. Friend saw some light on the way to Damascus last weekend. He will also have seen the excellent statement by the TUC—not the Scottish TUC but the United Kingdom TUC—published last week on devolution, warmly supporting the Government's proposals.
Mr. Donald Stewart
Since the Labour Party in Scotland has made some improvements on the right hon. Gentleman's original package, since that package concerns one of the important promises in the Queen's Speech, and since all the starters in the race for the leadership of the Labour Party have been converted to devolution in the last two weeks, will the right hon. Gentleman bring the Bill forward as quickly as possible?
The draft Bill will be published as early as possible. Let me repeat: we have received hundreds of submissions, some of great length. We [column 1572]are trying to digest all these. We shall publish the Bill when we have looked at all the submissions.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to “the Bill” and “the draft Bill” . Does that mean that the decision has been taken and that the idea of having separate Bills for Scotland and Wales has now been abandoned? If that is so, does the right hon. Gentleman appreciate that many people will think that that is a very bad decision indeed?
We have not yet taken a decision on this matter. I gave an undertaking to the right hon. Gentleman when he raised this matter in debate, and a number of other hon. Members have raised it. I think that a group of Members is coming to see me next week about this issue. Certainly we shall consider all the representations that we have had before we decide.
Q2. Mr. Steen
asked the Prime Minister whether he considers advice from public officials when making recommendations about the suitability of appointing individuals to Royal Commissions.
Mr. Edward Short
I have been asked to reply.
Yes, Sir. Official advice is always available to my right hon. Friend in the exercise of his official functions.
Does the Leader of the House know whether the Prime Minister is aware that many of those serving on Royal Commissions and public bodies are either octogenarians or Civil Service favourites? Will he please advise the Prime Minister to see that a greater cross-section of the community is involved in these public bodies, particularly minority groups, such as women, blacks, the physically handicapped, and young people, and in this way to enhance his effigy at Madame Tussauds?
I rather suspected that the hon. Gentleman would raise the question of age, so I had some research done on this matter. Of the last 66 appointments to seven new bodies, the average age was 52, and the ages of the chairmen averaged 59.6 years. On the point about extending the area, the hon. Gentleman will [column 1573]know that the Prime Minister has taken a number of steps recently——
He has resigned.
I agree. His resignation will considerably broaden and improve the quality of people available to serve on public bodies.
On the second part of the supplementary question of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Steen), he will know that the Prime Minister has recently created the Public Appointments Unit, which has been instructed to publish in the first half of this year a directory of paid appointments made by Ministers. Also, there is great scope for advertising some of the executive posts. The hon. Gentleman may have noticed the recent advertisement for a Director General of Fair Trading. Changes are taking place in these matters.
Mr. Christopher Price
Will my right hon. Friend urge the Prime Minister, in his last few days of office, to get on with the appointment of the Chairman of the Royal Commission on the Legal Professions, as he promised he would? Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is a need to appoint a really distinguished layman to get a grip of the monopolistic practices of the legal professions, and that the sooner we get on with it the sooner we can do something about them?
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister agrees that the Chairman should be a distinguished layman and not a lawyer. In the case of this Royal Commission, neither the Chairman nor any of the members has been appointed so far. In the case of the Royal Commission on the National Health Service, the Chairman has been appointed, but not the members. In the case of the Royal Commission on Gambling, both the Chairman and the members have been appointed, and I think that it has now started work.
Mr. Michael Marshall
When the Lord President says that the average age of members of Royal Commissions is 52, is he giving a weighted average, or is it, as I suspect, that some are 104 and others are down to something near to zero?[column 1574]
Mr. Raphael Tuck
Although I cannot yet declare an interest, what is wrong with octogenarians?
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Robert Mellish)
They are too old.
Mr. Raphael Tuck
Too old for what? Will my right hon. Friend the Lord President inform the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Steen) of what the great Bacon once said, namely, that extreme youth and discretion are ill-assorted companions?
My hon. Friend asked what was wrong with octogenarians, as such. The answer is “Nothing—except that they are octogenarians.” He answered the second part of his question himself.
TRADES UNIONS CONGRESS
Q3. Mr. George Rodgers
asked the Prime Minister when he next intends to meet the TUC.
Mr. Edward Short
I have been asked to reply.
I refer my hon. Friend to the reply which my right hon. Friend gave to the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. McCrindle) on 16th March, Sir.
Will my right hon. Friend suggest to the Prime Minister that when he next meets the TUC he pursues the question of industrial planning agreements? Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is increasing concern among trade unionists at shop floor level about the apparent failure to implement any such agreement to date? Will he advise the House whether there are any major problems in this area?
There are no major problems. The National Enterprise Board is getting to work. It has already been announced that planning agreements are to be drawn up with British Leyland and Chrysler, and the Government are engaged in formal discussions with a number of other leading companies about the prospects of introducing planning agreements into key sectors of manufacturing industry. Certainly this work is going on. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry hopes to [column 1575]make an announcement on this matter shortly.
Is there any danger that if the Prime Minister is overcome, on the one hand, by the desire to meet the TUC again, or, on the other, by disapproval of the result of the election for his successor, he may not resign after all?
The person appointed to succeed my right hon. Friend will have the full support of the present Prime Minister and all his colleagues, without exception.
Mr. Mike Noble
When my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister next meets the TUC, will be explain that the reason that its members will be unable to hear the Budget broadcast is the reluctance of the Leader of the Opposition, who is afraid to appear in public without the support of her script writers and public relations officers? Will my right hon. Friend reconsider the decision not to broadcast the Budget Statement, in the interests of democracy and open government?
No, Sir, I would not put it just like that. I said in the House last week or the previous week that if there were a demand for this we would have discussions through the usual channels. We had such discussions. I also received representations from a number of hon. Members, on both sides of the House, against having the Budget broadcast. In view of the discussions that we had and all the representations I received, I felt that I should not put a motion before the House ahead of the general motion on the permanent broadcasting of Parliament's proceedings.
Since this Question has now touched on matters of freedom of speech, will the Leader of the House please ask the TUC why it has supported the national executive of the National Union of Journalists, despite criticism by the Secretary of State for Employment, in the NUJ's attempts to pressurise news sources in Barnsley to deny access to news for the members of the smaller journalists' union, the Institute of Journalists?
Without accepting anything that the hon. Gentleman has said, I am [column 1576]sure that it does not arise out of this Question.
When the new Prime Minister meets the TUC, would it not be a good idea for him to initiate a system of trouble-shooters for the next round of pay talks? Is it not crazy that during a strike at British Leyland, because of a pay anomaly affecting a handful of men, there is no body set up to examine the matter quickly and to bring the strike swiftly to an end?
As my hon. Friend knows, the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service is involved in the dispute at present. It would be unwise for me or for any of us to pursue the matter now.
Q4. Mr. Gow
asked the Prime Minister whether he is satisfied with the co-ordination between the Chancellor of the Exchequer and other Ministers in implementing the Government's White Paper on Public Expenditure.
Mr. Edward Short
I have been asked to reply.
Will the right hon. Gentleman try to give the House a rather more imaginative reply? Is it not the case that if there is to be a recovery in the wealth-creating sector of British industry, which Britain's interest requires, there need to be substantial cuts in public expenditure in the coming year?
We reject that suggestion entirely. When the economy is running below capacity, such a suggestion would result in further unemployment. We have made our proposals in regard to public expenditure to create an improvement in investment and in exports when the economy begins its upturn.
Will my right hon. Friend explain how, following any cuts in public expenditure, the resulting resources will be transferred to British manufacturing industry? Is it not the duty of a Labour Government to take action in this sphere, rather than leave the matter to the vagaries of private enterprise by [column 1577]allocating that money to property companies or fringe banks, or sending it to South Africa?
The matter will not be left to the people my hon. Friend mentioned. No doubt private enterprise will play a considerable part. We shall ensure that not too great a share of resources will be absorbed by public authorities, and I am sure that there will be an opportunity greatly to increase our exports.
Does Edward Shortthe Lord President agree that the House refused to accept the Government's proposals on Government expenditure?
The following day the House passed a motion of confidence. Perhaps I could also remind the right hon. Lady that the Government of which she was a member were rejected. The Conservative Party received 1 million fewer votes than did the Labour Party in the election only 18 months ago, and 43 fewer seats than the Labour Party won in that election.
But the right hon. Gentleman has not answered my supplementary question. I repeat that the House rejected the Government's White Paper on Government expenditure.
As a matter of strict fact, it did not do so; it rejected the alternative put forward by the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition. But the vote of confidence the next day was a vote of confidence in Government policies.
Many of us deplore certain aspects of the Government's expenditure cuts, but will my right hon. Friend point out to the SNP the significance of a parliamentary Answer given to me recently by the Secretary of State for Scotland, that in education the percentage to be borne by Scotland will be much less than our percentage of the United Kingdom population? In view of this nonsense, does not the figure of 39 per cent. that is being bandied about by Members of the Scottish National Party indicate that either their arithmetic is of the same abysmal standard as their politics or else they are telling lies?
I hope that my hon. Friend will do some more research and attack[column 1578] all the silly figures put out by the SNP about Scotland at the present time.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the figures put forward by the SNP in its analysis of the public expenditure cuts have been supported by a major teachers union in Scotland, and does he appreciate that SNP Members, along with the teachers, are totally opposed to public expenditure cuts in Scottish education?
I have a little experience of teachers unions. I would not say that they were right just because they are teachers unions.