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Secretary Of State For Energy (Speech)

Volume 927: debated on Tuesday 8 March 1977

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asked the Prime Minister whether he is satisfied that no breach of the principle of collective Cabinet responsibility took place in the speech of the Secretary of State for Energy at the Press Gallery luncheon on 14th February 1977.

Does the Prime Minister recall that in that speech the Secretary of State advocated that the Labour Cabinet should be elected by Labour Back Benchers? Since the Government have now abandoned their major policies—the Dock Work Regulation Bill, the ship repairing section of the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill, and the Community Land Act—would he not agree that if he and his colleagues came up for election now they would not be in their present positions?

The hon. Member is a relatively new Member of the House. Therefore, I should remind him of a little personal history. From 1951 steadily until 1964, and from 1970 until 1974, my colleagues in the Parliamentary Labour Party, for good or for ill, elected me to the Shadow Cabinet. I am very grateful to them, and I do not think that there is any reason to believe that there would be any change now. As regards the doctrine of collective responsibility, I thought that my right hon. Friend's speech would appeal to the hon. Gentleman because the whole theme concerned the elevation of the doctrine of parliamentary democracy and parliamentary supremacy in this House. If the hon. Member does not agree with that, he is not fit to be a Member of Parliament.

Is the Prime Minister aware that the difficulty facing the Leader of the Opposition is not in recruiting people to the Shadow Cabinet but in managing to keep them once they are there? There are now six top Tories who refuse to settle in the Leader of the Opposition's political nest. Could my right hon. Friend offer any advice, or does he think that the right hon. Lady would be better advised to send a letter to Marjorie Proops?

I have noticed my hon. Friend's keen interest in the affairs of the Conservative Party, and I hope that that is not an indirect way of applying for a position himself.

Does the Prime Minister recognise that if the principles of the Secretary of State for Energy were extended to the election of the Leader of the Labour Party by the mass membership of the party there would be a difficulty, because the leader would then have to be elected by ghosts?

I am very reassured by the hon. Member's touching faith in election by the full membership, in view of what happened to him.

On the question of collective responsibility of the Cabinet, has the Prime Minister had the opportunity to discuss with his colleagues the statement he has made on three separate occasions in the last week that there will not be a General Election this year? Does he think that the British public would be wise to give as much weight to these denials as it gave to the denials he made in the summer of 1967 that there would be no devaluation that year?

I paid for those statements in full in November 1967. If the hon. Member ever has the misfortune to be Chancellor at a time when there is a fixed exchange rate, he might find that there are occasions when he has to make a stand on a position that he is not able to justify fully. That is one of the responsibilities of being Chancellor. On the question of a General Election, what I have indicated about trends moving in the right direction for the British economy continue to be borne out by the new announcement this week that the price of materials and of fuel rose by only ½ per cent. last month. Comparing this figure with that of a year ago, this holds out considerable hope for the slackening of inflation that we all want to see. It also holds out new hope for the prospect of a new wages agreement. A year ago these prices were going up by 4 per cent. a month, and last month the figure was only ½ per cent., so this is a very remarkable improvement. Irrespective of party interests, the hon. Member should welcome the fact that inflation is bound to slow down if this trend continues.