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Prime Minister (Engagements)

Volume 929: debated on Tuesday 29 March 1977

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asked the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for 29th March.


asked the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for 29th March.


Roberts asked the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for 29th March.


asked the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for 29th March.

In addition to my duties in this House, I shall be holding meetings with ministerial colleagues and others.

If my right hon. Friend discusses phase 3 with any of his ministerial colleagues, employers or trade unionists will he emphasise that, although there may be a need for some flexibility, if better-paid workers begin leapfrogging one over the other they may damage the interests of lower-paid workers and possibly destroy the social contract?

I completely agree with my hon. Friend about this. It is part of the Government's economic policy for this year to seek, if at all possible, to get agreement with the trade unions on another phase of wage policy. As my hon. Friend says, that could be destroyed if there were leapfrogging of the sort that he has outlined. With regard to differentials, it has always been the Government's policy to recognise that the rigidities of phases 1 and 2 cannot be extended into phase 3, but that there must be more flexibility, so that differentials can be recognised.

Now that the Prime Minister has abandoned Socialism as his price for a Liberal coalition, will he today explain to his beleagured candidate who is besieged in the Stechford by-election and those of his few Labour supporters who are still there why, if they wish to support Socialism, they should vote for the Labour candidate?

When I read the Question I somehow thought that the hon. Gentleman was not really asking about my engagements for 29th March. The hon. Gentleman has had the opportunity of making his point. I shall not boast about the result of Stechford. I shall leave him to do that and we shall see on Friday morning.

Can the Prime Minister take some time off to study the contradictory statements made by Ministers and Members of the Liberal Party about the recently concluded pact? Will he confirm that he is still leading a Government dedicated to the pursuit of Socialism and that he has not abandoned a single legislative commitment?

I do not think that it is of particular concern to the Conservative Party what arrangements are made between other parties in the House. I would not regard it—[Interruption.] When the hon. Member for Hastings (Mr. Warren) joins the Labour Party, if he ever does, I shall be glad to account for myself to him. Meanwhile, despite this eagerness on the part of the Conservative Party, I do not propose to assume ministerial responsibility for these inter-party arrangements. I am afraid that the curiosity of Conservative Members will have to remain unassuaged. The Government's programme will continue to be carried through as we get a majority in this House for it.

Could the Prime Minister find time in his busy day to sit quietly and contemplate who is responsible for continuing in office a Chancellor of the Exchequer who has seen the retail price index rise, on a three-month basis, from 8·4 per cent. to 21·6 per cent.? Is this inflation not destroying all the plans and hopes of those who have tried to do their best for their retirement?

The degree of inflation in this country has undermined many things. That is why the Government are resolutely determined to reduce it, and are succeeding—without much help from the Opposition. It is our view, which I have expressed in the House many times, that if we resolutely pursue the policies that we have embarked upon inflation will start to turn down in the second half of this year and will go down faster in the first half of the following year.

Is my right hon. Friend aware this morning in Standing Committee A, which was considering the Coal Industry Bill, the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South East (Mr. Rost) advocated a policy that the price of gas should be—[HON. MEMBERS: "Order."]

Order. I think that hon. Members are mixing up a Select Committee and a Standing Committee, but I would also remind the hon. Gentleman that the giving of information is not the purpose of this period—[Laughter.]—except—let me put myself right—by the Front Bench.

I hope that in the course of one of his engagements today my right hon. Friend will send a message to our candidate at Stetchford, informing him that the Tory Party is advocating price increases in excess of the 10 per cent. proposed by the Government and that that has not been repudiated by Tory Front Bench spokesmen.

I am aware that the Conservative Party's policy would be to increase prices substantially, and I hope that that message is well understood in the country. That is why my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has not accepted the Conservative Party's proposals in Brussels. He has not accepted the view put forward by the Conservative Front Bench on this matter, which would have had the effect of raising food prices. He has steadily resisted both their proposals and those of the other countries.

Is the Prime Minister aware that when it comes to rising prices we could not begin to rival his record and that of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in increasing them? Is he aware that when we left office their maximum was 13·2 per cent. per annum, a record that he has not begun to rival during the whole time that he has been in office?

I know that the right hon. Lady's intentions are of the best, but I was wondering why the Conservative Front Bench spokesmen on food and agriculture should have put forward a proposition that would have the effect of raising food prices in this country by 1¼ per cent., by their proposed devaluation of the green pound, without anything in exchange for it.

How can my right hon. Friend expect any congratulations from the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition on the valiant battle that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is putting up in Europe when that is only one more bit of bad news for her in a very bad week?

I hope that my hon. Friend is not intimating that he has had any sight of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor's Budget, because that would be extremely serious. As regards the other news of this week, it is certainly true that what my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is doing in Brussels is to show that a determined fight on behalf of the British housewife will bring results.