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Prime Minister (Engagements)

Volume 929: debated on Thursday 7 April 1977

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asked the Prime Minister whether he will list his official engagements during the Easter Recess.

It is not in accordance with usual practice to do so. However, if my hon. Friend has anything specific to suggest, I shall be glad to consider it.

If my right hon. Friend has time to visit Scotland during the Easter Recess, will he give an assurance that there will be no collaboration over incomes policy with his "phoney" comrades in Roxburgh or anywhere else? Will my right hon. Friend instead visit his brother trade unionists at the STUC conference in Rothesay where justified concern is likely to be expressed about the drop in workers' living standards and a justifiable demand is likely to be made for a return to free collective bargaining instead of pussyfooting around with kitty bargaining?

I have had regular meetings with Scottish trade unionists and others, and I have had discussions with them. I do not accept my hon. Friend's description of what are the best policies to follow in these matters. In view of the developments that we have had, I recognise that there must now be some changes in the next pay round. That is quite clear. But I do not accept that the whole idea of a pay agreement should be thrown overboard. That would be the surest and most certain way of returning to higher inflation in the short run and more unemployment in the medium run. Control must be kept over the money supply. I hope that my hon. Friend will reflect on these comments both on Good Friday and Easter Sunday. If he does, I believe that he will come back in a different frame of mind.

If the Prime Minister visits Rothesay, or Roxburgh, or anywhere else, will he ponder, on Good Friday, and realise that whenever he holds the election it is he who will be dismissed for sheer incompetence?

It would no doubt be possible, but I do not think it is important, for us necessarily to look ahead to the result of the next election. One day I hope to get it into the heads of Opposition Members, at least those not obsessed by elections, that the Government intend to carry through their policy of restraining inflation and overcoming unemployment by directing an export-led growth as far as we can. Despite the mutterings of the hon. Gentleman, this country has got the best possible chance that it has had for 30 years of breaking out of the cycle of decline. If we do manage to break out of it, if we get another pay agreement, and if we pursue these policies, no matter what the electoral unpopularity—and I emphasise the word "if"—this country will have a golden decade in the 1980s.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is one thing and only one thing which would prevent me from currently appearing in the witness box to testify to his competence? He may put that thing right by meeting constituents of mine who work at C. A. Parsons Ltd. during Easter and telling them why it has taken the Government over a year to come to anywhere near a decision on the electrical power plant industry. We have had planning agreements and discussions, as well as the CPRS review, but there have been continued delays with regard to a decision. Will my right hon. Friend meet my constituents during the recess and tell them what the Government are going to do about Drax B and the 2,000 jobs threatened in my constituency?

These are important matters. The whole future of both the turbine generator industry and the boiler industry is involved. There is the question whether this industry has a real future in this country, based on domestic supply, or whether we should structure it in such a way that it will be able to go for export markets. These are not decisions to be taken lightly. It would be foolish to do so. I have been engaged personally in these matters and I have learned a great deal about them during the last six months. I assure my hon. Friend that a decision will be reached based on the interests of his constituents who work in C. A. Parsons and the other major firms involved. The time for reaching a decision is close. Drax B is clearly involved in these decisions. I hope that my hon. Friend will be a little patient about this, because we are considering the future of one of Britain's biggest and most important industries.

Does the Prime Minister agree that if he is not prepared to return to free collective bargaining he has to find a way of meeting the rightful demands of skilled workers to have their differentials restored? What thought are the Government giving to such a proposal and, in particular, does the Prime Minister think that something like a relativities board might have a useful purpose?

Discussions between the Chancellor, the Secretaries of State for Employment and Industry and others of my colleagues are going on at the moment on these matters. I would prefer not to go into detail about them at present. The TUC said last year that it wanted an early beginning to a return to free collective bargaining. I understand that point. With regard to differentials and kitty bargaining, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment has made some proposals. I hope that they will get more careful consideration than that given by my hon. Friend the Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan) this morning, despite the rather silly remark of Clive Jenkins yesterday. That is no way to handle these matters. I shall see whether the Chancellor or the Secretary of State for Employment can report to the House as soon as possible.