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Prime Minister (Engagements)

Volume 932: debated on Thursday 19 May 1977

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asked the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for 19th May.

Before I reply, I remind the House that in accordance with the recommendations of the Procedure Committee I am not grouping indirect Questions in the first 10, of which today there are seven. But this is, of course, a transitional policy.

This morning I presided at a meeting of the Cabinet. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall be holding further meetings with ministerial colleagues and others.

Before his Cabinet meeting this morning, was my right hon. Friend able to act on the commitment that he gave, with other Heads of Government, on 8th May to take action to eliminate improper practices in trade and international commerce? Has he been able to examine the allegation about the British Leyland affair which appears in today's papers? Will he authorise an inquiry and assure the House of his intention to supervise any action that is needed in that matter?

I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker. I did not want to anticipate anything that you might say. I understand that there is a Private Notice Question on this matter.

As for international action. I did not refer to Leyland or to anybody else in this particular connection. That is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, if he is called to make a statement later.

I remind the House of the statement made by the Chief Secretary to the Treasury when it was made clear that
"The Government will accordingly be pressing in appropriate international organisations for measures to be taken wherever possible to deal with this evil."—[Official Report, 18th May May 1976; Vol. 911, c. 1214.]
That statement of Government policy—and there is much more to it—preceded the Downing Street Summit. I therefore pressed at the Summit with the United States and other countries, for references of this sort to be incorporated. It is a matter which properly causes grave concern so far as the general policy of the Government is concerned. We do not tolerate such practices and they must be rooted out, although a heavy responsibility rests upon the host countries themselves.

As this matter will be dealt with later, may I raise with the Prime Minister a question which is causing concern to hon. Members on all sides of the House? As it is nearing the time when the arrangements for the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference must be finalised, can the Prime Minister say whether he has yet reached a decision about whether President Amin will attend that conference? In asking him that question, may I make it quite clear that my right hon. and hon. Friends and, I believe, many other hon. Members—although I cannot speak for them—feel that it would be utterly repugnant if President Amin were to attend the conference? We feel that that is the view of the British people as a whole.

I am obliged for the way in which the right hon. Lady framed her question. As she knows, this is a matter which is of very great concern to the Government. As I indicated some weeks ago, we have been giving careful and continuing consideration to this matter. Indeed, in conjunction with certain Ministers I gave consideration to it again this morning. As the House knows, Her Majesty's Government broke off diplomatic relations with President Amin a year ago. The latest evidence from the International Commission of Jurists confirms us in our view that we were right to have no relations with that régime, although we have nothing but good will for the people of Uganda.

As regards making an announcement on Her Majesty's Government's position, I should be grateful if the right hon. Lady would not press me to do that. We should like to choose any moment when we have to make a statement that we think would be in accord with the best interests of the Commonwealth as a whole—although, having said that, I want to make it clear that any decision that is taken will not be one in which I wish to involve other Commonwealth members. It will be for Her Majesty's Government to reach a conclusion on this matter.

During my right hon. Friend's discussions with his colleagues today, will he do his best to expedite the introduction of a Bill for direct elections to the European Parliament, which was promised us in the Queen's Speech?

I fear that I have no further statement to make on that matter at this particular moment. As soon as there is something that can be said, an announcement will, of course, be made.

Order. The hon. Gentleman has made a bit of a short cut—although it might save the time of the House.


asked the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for 19th May.

The hon. Gentleman would have been right last week, but not this week, because under the new arrangements I now have to say to him "I refer the hon. Member to the reply that I gave earlier today to my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Mr. Ward)."

Are the Government preparing to increase defence expenditure by 3 per cent. in real terms?

No doubt the hon. Gentleman has seen the communiqué that was issued about the intentions of member Governments of the Alliance from 1979 to 1984. No doubt he will also have noted the qualifications that are related to that proposal. It will be the qualifications that will have to be taken into account as well as the commitment when the 1979 budget is considered.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm this afternoon that it is still the Government's intention to legislate on industrial democracy in the next Session of Parliament?

The discussions now taking place with the CBI and the TUC have not reached the advanced stage that I had hoped on this matter. It is the Government's desire that we should be able to legislate on this matter, but we need to clear the ground first, and so far we have not been able to do so.

Has the right hon. Gentleman had time today to consider the extraordinary reports that have suggested that non-NUJ journalists may in future be barred from Press conferences at the Labour Party conference or at Labour Party headquarters? Although these are not matters for which the right hon. Gentleman is answerable to the House, will he make it clear that there will never be any such power at a Press conference that he gives as Prime Minister?

No, Sir, I have not seen the reports, nor had I heard of them. I saw a report about the TUC; I did not see any other report. If that was what the right hon. Gentleman was referring to, yes, I saw that; but I have not seen any other reports. If it is the TUC, I would agree with the right hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) that in the first instance it is probably better that the TUC itself should sort this out. I would rather agree with him—although he did not actually say this, but I guess that this is the implication of what he had in mind—that we shall not clear these things by making ex cathedra statements at the Dispatch Box.


asked the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for 19th May.

I refer the hon. Member to the reply which I gave earlier today to my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Mr. Ward).

Has the Prime Minister read Press reports of his speech at Great Yarmouth yesterday? Will he confirm that it is still the Government's intention to seek a single-figure percentage rate of increase in wages in phase 3?

I did read the reports. I regret that they were not full enough to indicate to the country at large that I received a standing ovation from the trade union delegates at the end of my speech. However, on the substance of the speech, while the Chancellor of the Exchequer and others are in discussions with the TUC I should prefer not to go into further details about the exact arrangements that the Government would like to see.

Will the Prime Minister confirm that a vital element in the success of an incomes policy is firm price control? Will he take every opportunity to expose the double standards of the official Opposition and explain to people that the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition and many of her acolytes on the Opposition Front Bench are against price controls yet they leap to the Dispatch Box, with their eyes blazing with insincerity—[Interruption.]—to complain about price increases?

There is no doubt that the best way to restrain increased prices and increasing prices is to keep down the rate of inflation. [Interruption.] That is what the Government's policy is based on. We attack inflation as the source of all these evils. As regards prices, I have no reason to depart from the estimate that I have often given at the Dispatch Box about the future course of prices in the next eight or nine months.

Will the Prime Minister find time today to reprove the three Ministers who took time off from their duties, a most unfitting action, to go and join a picket line?

No, Sir. I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would go and do the same thing. With his past history as a member of Her Majesty's Forces and a very gallant officer, I would expect him to stand for decency and fair play in relations between men and management.

Has the Prime Minister had a chance today to read the reports this morning which have set out the conditions under which the Liberal Party now wishes to encourage the trade unions to conclude an agreement with the Government on a phase 3 wage policy? Will he tell the House whether this agreement to which the Liberal Party now refers was in fact included in the original discussions that it had with the Government when it concluded the agreement of support earlier this year? If that was not the case and if such discussions were never included at that time, is it not something to be deplored that the Liberal Party now wishes to include this further element as a condition on which it is prepared to support the Government in the future?

I regret that I have not had time to study these matters. However, it is open to the Liberal Party, and, indeed, any other party in the House, to raise many matters with the Government as to the best way in which they think that phase 3, or anything else, can be conducted. I shall be happy to meet them and discuss matters with them.

Reverting to the Prime Minister's answer to an earlier question, are we to take it that the Government's view on how to reduce inflation is to reduce inflation?

Yes, Sir. Broadly, I think that that is right. I hope that there is no disposition in any part of the House to challenge my statement that if inflation comes down prices will not go up so fast.

Will the Prime Minister take time among his official engagements to shed a tear over the demise of the devolution Bill for Scotland and Wales—[An HON. MEMBER: "Crocodile tears."]—be they crocodile tears or not—and will he tell us when he intends to reintroduce a measure for devolution for Scotland?

Discussions have been conducted by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House with the other parties, including the Scottish National Party. Those discussions, I hope, are now coming to an end.

Never, Mr. Speaker. It would not even cross my mind.

However, as I think the House and all the parties know, my right hon. Friend offered discussions to all parties in the House. If any party chose not to take up that offer, that is not my right hon. Friend's responsibility. But there will be a review of the conclusions of these negotiations in due course.

With regard to inflation, does the Prime Minister agree that, although most trade union leaders have been moderate, the demands by one or two for 30 per cent. wage increases are as irresponsible as the daily demands by Conservative Members and that it would be as damaging and dangerous to concede those demands as it would be to concede the demands made every day by Conservatives?

I made the position clear at the TSSA conference which I visited yesterday that wage claims or settlements in the region of 30 per cent. by those who have the industrial muscle would certainly make it almost impossible, if not impossible, for us to reach the kind of inflation levels that we seek for this country next year. It is right to point out to the House that the progress made with regard to the decline in interest rates is probably of even greater significance than some increases in pay in relation to real standards of life for the people.