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Stretford

Volume 885: debated on Thursday 30 January 1975

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Q9.

asked the Prime Minister if he will pay an official visit to Stretford.

I have been asked to reply.

My right hon. Friend has at present no plans to do so.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that when, at the time of the last election, the Prime Minister came to speak for me in Stretford, he made all sorts of glib remarks and gave all sorts of assurances about unemployment? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that unemployment in my constituency has risen by approximately 50 per cent. since his Government came to office? Is he further aware of the gross unfairness being perpetrated under the so-called "social contract", which is nothing but a cloak for a wages free-for-all in which the bully boys reap the bonuses? Last year average earnings increased by 28½ per cent. Since many workers obtained substantially more, inevitably many millions had to make do with much less. Can the right hon. Gentleman say how many millions of workers got nothing like that?

The hon. Gentleman has put his supplementary question with his usual objectivity. I went to Stretford as well, and I certainly did not speak for the hon. Gentleman. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman very nearly got beaten. He will be beaten next time. The unemployment figure for Stretford is 2·9 per cent., which is only marginally fractionally above the national level. I agree that it is too high a figure. But once the present Government's policies have worked through, and when this Government have mastered inflation, as they will, the unemployment in Stretford, as elsewhere, will certainly fall.

Has my right hon. Friend seen the recent speech of the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill) in which he was speaking about the forthcoming ballot for the Conservative Party leadership—this rather curious ballot—and in which he said he believed that the present Leader of the Opposition could survive if he could get back to the sort of 1970 vintage? Has my right hon. Friend also heard of the possible injunction that may be sought against this particular ballot, as it is asking for a 65 per cent.—

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I submit to you that what has already been heard in respect of this question is out of order and has nothing whatever to do with the Question on the Order Paper?

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Over recent years the Chair has constantly ruled that points of order arising during Question Time must be taken at the end of Question Time.

The Chair has always said that it would prefer points of order to be raised at the end of Question Time. The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) certainly was going fairly wide. I hope that he will conclude.

I was asking my right hon. Friend whether he had heard of the rumour that an injunction was to be sought against the conduct of that ballot in view of the necessity of a 65 per cent. majority—

Order. That is the end of the supplementary question. Does the hon. Member wish to raise a point of order?

Yes, Mr. Speaker. I am not aware that this supplementary question by the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) has anything whatever to do with a potential visit by the Prime Minister to Stretford.

Order. One of the troubles is that supplementary questions very often are far away from the original Question.

You took the words out of my mouth, Mr. Speaker. I was about to say "Nor has the supplementary question of the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill)", but as he asked it I would not dream—

Given the unemployment figures, I would not dream of commenting on the difficulties of the Conservative Party. Unfortunately, the hon. Gentleman's speeches are not essential reading for me.

May one congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his discretion, because he already has his hands well filled with his own difficulties? If he will look behind him, and particularly to his right, he will find plenty.

I thought that when the right hon. Gentleman got to his feet he was going to ask me for the reply to the question he put to me last week when he challenged me to publish the figures about the relative efficiency and productivity in publicly-owned industries and privately-owned industries. I have given these to the Press. I shall not give them to the House now. They are now with the Press.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that kindness forebade me even to refer to so meagre an answer?

In view of that, Mr. Speaker, I really feel, with permission—[Interruption.] The net output per employee between 1963 and 1973 has risen by 158 per cent. in public corporations.

Order. The House really is behaving extremely badly—both sides of it. Noise from one side leads to noise from the other side. My purpose is to get as many Questions asked and answered as possible. That has not been possible this afternoon.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it in order for the Leader of the House to give an answer to a question which has not been asked?

The right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) asked the question, so I was going to help him—[Interruption.] In the 10 years between 1963 and 1973, net output per employee—

Order. The hon. Member for Lancaster (Mrs. Kellett-Bowman) raised a point of order. In fact, the Chair has no control over a Minister's answer. He can give the answer he wishes.

Net output per employee has risen in the public corporations by 158 per cent. and in private corporations by 98 per cent. In 1973 net output per employee was 31 per cent. higher in public corporations than it was in private industry.

Later

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May we have your guidance? At the end of Question Time the Lord President made a statement which presumably was not related to any Question he was answering. Therefore, it must have been an official Government statement. It contained a statistical matter which was not only inaccurate but misleading, and which appeared to distort the position of the public sector as opposed to the private sector. May we have your guidance as to when we may cross-examine the right hon. Gentleman? As it is not a matter which is within his own ministerial responsibility, it will presumably not be possible for us to put on the Order Paper further Written or Oral Questions to the right hon. Gentleman. Therefore, the only appropriate time appears to be now.

Further to that point of order. Perhaps I can help you, Mr. Speaker. The figures I quoted were from the Department of Industry survey "National Income and Expenditure 1973".

Further to that point of order. No one asked the right hon. Gentleman where he got his figures from. Surely it is unprecedented for a right hon. Gentleman on the Opposition Front Bench to throw out a challenge to a Minister, who then, about a week later, without notice, comes with a piece of paper—

—proceeds to read an answer and then sits down. Surely we should either have a statement—

I can manage without the hon. Lady's assistance.

Surely the Leader of the House himself would be the first to agree that it makes for orderly business if we either have a statement on the usual basis on which statements are made, with questions allowed from both sides, or a Written Answer or something quite different—namely, a speech. But this is the most extraordinary thing. Who will next appear with a piece of paper to say that somebody asked him something six months ago and that he has just found the answer?

I do not think that there was any breach of order. There is nothing in the Standing Orders which was offended against. I think that it was partly the fault of the House, because there was a great deal of noise, provoked from one side or the other and responded to by one side or the other. Therefore, I did not hear what the Lord President of the Council said. I rather understood that he was being coaxed into his reply by the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton). But as the House was making so much noise I did not hear what the Lord President said. Anyway, the Chair has no power to control a ministerial answer.

I should like to apologise for any contribution I made to your embarrassment and difficulties, Mr. Speaker. At the same time, I should like most warmly to congratulate you on not having heard the contribution of the Leader of the House, which was totally superfluous, quite unnecessary and, in so far as it contained information, quite misleading.