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Oral Answers To Questions

Volume 949: debated on Tuesday 2 May 1978

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.


Departmental Employees (Car Allowances)


asked the Secretary of State for Employment what rate per mile is paid to personnel of his Department when using their own cars on official business.

The allowance paid depends upon the circumstances in which the private car is used. The standard rates are from 10·6p to 13·4p per mile, depending upon engine size. The standard rate is paid when the use of the private car is justified. Where the advantages lie with the journey being made by public transport, a rate of 6·3p per mile is paid.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that all these rates compare very favourably with the 4·1p per mile paid to Service men? Will he inform the Secretary of State for Defence of the differences paid in the mileage rate and invite him to take steps to put them right?

I shall draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence to what the hon. Gentleman has said, but I think that the hon. Gentleman should have tabled a Question to him. I cannot help but wonder whether the cost of the hon. Gentleman's travel to the House to ask this Question was really worth while.



asked the Secretary of State for Employment what is the number of people currently registered as unemployed in the city of Birmingham; what was the number 12 months ago; and how many of these were and are under the age of 18 years.

Between April 1977 and April 1978, the total numbers registered as unemployed in the city of Birmingham fell from 38,433 to 36,014. At January 1978, however, the latest date for which figures by age are available, there were 3,337 people under 18 years of age unemployed, compared with 3,216 a year earlier.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that reply, but can he tell us what contribution the various Government Departments operating in the City of Birmingham have made to the employment of young people, school-leavers, and so on, as trainees? Can he give an assurance that these Government Departments will respond to all the exhortations and injunctions issued by the Government to private employers in respect of the employment and training of young people?

There have been difficulties with the trade unions in the public sector with regard to support for the work experience programme and, as Ministers, we appeal to them to give support.

Can the hon. Gentleman explain why the skillcentres in Birmingham and the Midlands are not filling about 20 per cent. of their places despite heavy advertising? Will he take into account the fact that incentives to young people to acquire skills are not great enough to attract them to this necessary work, which is the basis for the expansion of business in due course?

The skillcentres are for adults rather than young people. There is no shortage of young people wanting to take up apprenticeships. The short answer is that the engineering industry, unfortunately, is not attractive enough at present to people in this country.



asked the Secretary of State for Employment what is the latest estimate of the annual percentage increase in aggregate earnings in the current pay round.

The monthly index indicates that average earnings were about 10·4 per cent. higher in February this year than in February last year. This compares with an increase of about 10·3 per cent. in the previous 12 months.

How much evidence does the Minister of State have of bogus self-financing productivity deals, and what action does he intend to take in such cases?

I am not sure how that issue arises under this Question, but we look very carefully at productivity proposals. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman has noticed from the Press that we are making arrangements to vet them in the future.

Will the Minister of State indicate what is the rate of increase estimated for the public sector as opposed to the private sector, and give forecasts of how he sees the outturn during the present phase of pay policy?

I do not think that we produce separate figures for the public sector as opposed to the private sector. As to any guesstimates about the outturn, some people have been making speculative forecasts. I prefer not to indulge in that game, because past experience has shown how misleading it can be. Those who have been using figures such as 14 per cent. should be aware of the damage that they are doing to the economy and to our national interests.

With regard to bogus productivity deals—this clearly arises out of my hon. Friend's question—will the Minister say how many civil servants are engaged in monitoring what would be a quite futile exercise?

I cannot give the hon. Gentleman the figures offhand. If he will table a Question I shall try to inform him of the numbers involved. I hope that he would want us to monitor and vet productivity deals to ensure that they are not bogus. We are satisfied that those that have been before my Department and have been approved so far are genuine self-financing productivity deals.

Does my hon. Friend agree with me that the aggregate earnings are dependent to a very great extent not just on productivity deals but on overtime, and a great deal of it? Does he not agree further that it is rather sad that so much overtime is being worked when so many people are out of work? Could not something be done about this?

I think that we are at one in wishing to see a reduction in the volume of overtime being worked. I hope that my hon. Friend and all hon. Members will read the very informative article published in my Department's Gazette this month.

Unemployed Persons


asked the Secretary of State for Employment what is the latest total of registered unemployed.


asked the Secretary of State for Employment what are the latest figures for unemployment; and if he will make a statement.


asked the Secretary of State for Employment what are the latest figures for unemployment; and if he will make a statement.


asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he will make a statement on the current level of unemployment.

At 13th April, 1,387,484 people were registered as unemployed in Great Britain.

While the seasonally adjusted level of unemployment has fallen for the seventh successive month, the prospects for a major improvement depend in large part on international co-operation on economic growth. The recent Budget measures show the Government's willingness to aid concerted international economic expansion. At home, the special employment measures are playing an important part in keeping down the unemployment level.

Instead of hiding the true unemployment figure of nearly 2 million with "phoney" job creation schemes, why do not the Government abandon their Socialist policies of job destruction and provide the real incentives which the Chancellor of the Exchequer has again failed to provide, so that we can have some jobs created?

There is nothing "phoney" about measures that we introduce which enable people to provide services in this country and to do useful constructive work, as opposed to drawing unemployment benefit.

As for the Budget measures, I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would be among the first to appreciate that an increase in purchasing power of about £2·5 billion would stimulate some activity, leading to employment. The direct Government expenditure in construction and in the National Health Service arising from the Budget will certainly feed into additional employment.

Will not the Minister confirm that his listening, together with his colleagues, to the cries from the Opposition about curbing the money supply and cutting back the public sector borrowing requirement, and having cuts in social services and so on, resulted in a large part of the unemployment total? In order to get out of this position, does he agree that he should now turn his attention to restoring those cuts in public spending and to reducing the number of hours that people have to work? As Socialists, my right hon. Friend and his colleagues should be planning the dole queue out of existence and not listening to the Opposition.

One of the major factors in the limitation of public expenditure, as I recall it, was the decision that arose from listening not to Opposition Members but to the International Monetary Fund.

Is the Secretary of State satisfied that the Manpower Services Commission can comply with the obligation imposed on it to offer a job opportunity to each young person leaving school between now and next Easter?

That obligation, which we have laid upon the Manpower Services Commission, requires an extremely ambitious programme to be developed very quickly indeed. It is my belief that, given the co-operation of trade unions, employers, local authorities, and a number of other bodies which have a very important contribution to make, we can achieve that aim and in doing so play a major part in reducing the problem of youth unemployment.

Will the Minister use this opportunity to describe Cornwall's unemployment figures? Will he indicate what would be the effect in the area of Chacewater, in my constituency, of the closure of Wheal Jane mine? Will he by 12 noon tomorrow tell the Secretary of State for Industry how much it will cost the Department if that mine, in the final analysis, is not rescued?

I cannot give a detailed answer to that question without notice, but I assure the hon. Gentleman that the Secretary of State for Industry works very closely with me in examining the employment effects of decisions which either he or I can implement by aid from our Departments.

My right hon. Friend mentioned the need for international co-operation. Will he recall that at the recent Heads of Government Summit there was discussion about programmes of work sharing? Is his Department engaged on any programmes in this area? If so, will he bring to the House any suggestions on this matter?

I have had discussions with the CBI and the TUC about ways in which work sharing might be brought about, including ways that might arise from a reduction in overtime working or a shortening of the working week. I very much hope that we shall have the co-operation of employers and unions in achieving changes along those lines.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is very deep and growing concern in the whole nation about the high and sustained level of unemployment? Is he aware that the policy of the Government has been optimistic, totally unjustified and totally ineffective in reducing unemployment? Is he further aware that, given the record of the Conservative Government on unemployment, compared with the present Government's record, the remarks of the Prime Minister at the weekend were contemptible, to say the least?

I can only imagine that the right hon. Gentleman has not studied the unemployment statistics over the past six months. There has not been a steady level of unemployment. There has been a falling level of unemployment. The right hon. Gentleman invites the House to make a comparison between the record of the Government and that of the last Conservative Government. It behoves him to recall that in 1971, 1972 and 1973 there were fewer people employed in this country than there are today.

But is it not a fact that for every day the Government have been in office, 600 people have joined the dole queues?

There have been considerable redundancies in this country. These have been offset as a direct result of actions taken by the Government. But anyone imagining that it is possible to run the economy of this country in a way which will totally avoid redundancies, on the basis of policies advocated by the Opposition, can in no way have examined objectively what is happening in our economy.

Has my right hon. Friend been able to make an estimate of the numbers of job opportunities which should be created by the aid given by his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer to small businesses?

No, we have not been able to make a precise calculation, because that depends very much on the uptake. But I hope that the measures announced by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and those which I announced in March this year, will be used to the utmost by those concerned to bring down the levels of unemployment. It is the case now that we are not short of schemes to deal with unemployment, or of offers of aid, but we must make a more serious attempt to ensure that such measures as are available to reduce unemployment are used to the hilt.


asked the Secretary of State for Employment how many people were unemployed in the United Kingdom at the most recent count; and how this figure compares with the figure in the comparable month in 1974.

At 13th April 1978, 1,451,758 people were registered as unemployed in the United Kingdom, compared with 607,602 in April 1974.

In view of the fact that unemployment has more than doubled since this Government came into office, and since there was a big increase in unemployment under the last Labour Government, how can the Labour Party claim to care about unemployment?

The number of people in employment is now at a higher level than on average under the last Government. The factors which have led to the increase in unemployment—these are matters of very grave concern to government—take into account the vastly greater number of people now seeking work and the larger numbers leaving school. These are problems which have to be dealt with against the background of a world trading slump of enormous proportions.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that although the decrease this month is welcome, the unemployment level in the Northern Region is still far too high? Does he also agree that if, by any misfortune, the Conservative Party gets to power and does as it has promised—cuts out temporary employment subsidy, and gets rid of regional incentives—the level will be far worse?

I certainly agree that the unemployment level in the Northern Region is very worrying. The measures that we have introduced there are certainly none too ambitious. I hope that we shall see them used to the hilt. If some of the policies advocated by the Conservatives had been adopted, the situation would be totally intolerable.

What work is going on within the Department and within the Government to look at the long-term implications of microvalve work, greater technology, and so on, which is, of course, at the root of many of our unemployment problems?

I have taken individual responsibility for directing work on this matter. In the long term I think that the effect of much more capital-intensive processing in manufacturing industry will be a major factor which may reduce the number of people who can be employed in manufacturing in this country to possibly as few as 25 per cent. of our present working population. We are examining this in various areas. It is one of the factors that we are feeding into discussions at NEDC. It is also one of the factors that will help us analyse the effect of the sector working party reports.

Will not my right hon. Friend deplore with me the partisan attitude that has been adopted by the Conservative Opposition on this serious problem of unemployment, which is an international problem where international and national attitudes should be adopted?

It is not unknown for partisan attitudes to be adopted in various parts of the House. But those who wish to criticise adversely measures adopted to deal with unemployment are under some obligation to propose measures which they think will be more effective. It is certainly the case that this is an international problem. On standards of reliable international comparison, this country is tackling the problem much more successfully than are many others.


asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he will give in the Official Report a breakdown of the March estimate in the Department of Employment Gazette showing that unemployment could be reduced by 600,000 at a cost of £1,000 million by reducing the pension age of men to 60 years.

Yes, Sir. I am arranging to publish in the Official Report details of the estimates and the assumptions on which they are based.

Does my hon. Friend accept, however, that we are in a very dangerous employment position, with an estimated increase in the potential labour force of about 1 million in the next seven years and in the same period probably the loss of the equivalent of 1 million jobs due to advancing technology if we are to see the sort of national growth that we all hope to see? In those circumstances, does my hon. Friend feel that there is now urgency to move towards earlier retirement, as this has a considerable contribution to make?

I am aware of my hon. Friend's long-standing concern about this problem. Indeed, I read his interesting article about in in Labour Weekly at the weekend. As my right hon. Friend has already said, however, he has been having discussions with both the CBI and the TUC on work-sharing measures generally. Obviously, early retirement must figure in discussions of that sort. But, however socially desirable it is to do that—and indeed. I accept the kind of analysis that my hon. Friend has broadly made—inevitably it would add very substantially to net costs at present.

In view of the Government's poor record of forecasting future trends in employment, what steps has the Department taken to improve its forecasting techniques, and how far ahead does it now feel that it can predict levels of employment with confidence?

I think that our forecasting has been quite accurate in the past. Indeed, I think that the forecasts that we have given for at least the next five years are all on the record and they can be tested in due course. However, we have already made it clear that we can expect the net increase in the labour force to be about 170,000 a year for probably the next four or five years.

Following is the information:

The March Department of Employment Gazette gave estimates of the employment and financial effects of lowering the national insurance retirement age for men to 60, derived as follows.
There are 1·4 million men aged 60–64; over 1 million in employment, about 130,000 registered as unemployed. If the same proportion of the economically active retired at 60 as at present retires at 65, after adjustment to the new retirement age fewer than 450,000 would still be working, the majority working part-time.
This would release 750,000 full-time jobs. Assuming a replacement rate of 75 per cent., with 80 per cent. of the replacements coming from the unemployment register, 450,000 of the registered unemployed would find work. Assuming also that almost all the unemployed aged over 60 retired, the unemployed register would fall by nearly 600,000. The costs would be:
Pensions*: over £1,800 million.
+Loss of income tax and national insurance revenue (net): over £300 million.
-Savings in unemployment benefit and social security payments (net): nearly £1,000 million.
Net cost: nearly £1,200 million per year.
* At present pension levels, assuming the deferment age limit was lowered by five years.


asked the Secretary of State for Employment what further action is proposed to reduce the number of working people who are unemployed.


asked the Secretary of State for Employment what further measures he intends to introduce to reduce unemployment.

I announced in the House on 15th March details of the expanded programme of special employment and training measures with which we shall be seeking to mitigate the effects of high unemployment over the coming year. The special measures are still developing. We shall keep under review their scope and effectiveness and shall continue to provide special support for job and training opportunities so long as unemployment remains high. At the international level, the Government are engaged in discussions on a concerted strategy to stimulate economic growth.

I recognise the good work that the Government have done, but will my right hon. Friend encourage his Cabinet colleagues to make the reduction of unemployment the Government's main priority in the months ahead, as it is causing deep anxiety to young people leaving school who go straight on to the dole queue?

I shall give my hon. Friend that undertaking, not merely because of the anxiety that unemployment is causing young people but because I believe that it is the only way, in the long run, of enabling all people who wish to work to provide the goods and services that will enable he and I to achieve the social objectives for which we have campaigned.

In view of the demands of the micro-electronic revolution and of the need, which presumably the Government accept, to improve productivity to the best international standards, is it not clear that further and drastic measures will be necessary to alleviate unemployment in the next 10 years or more?

We shall need to have a dynamic manpower policy to cope with the new phase of the technological revolution. That means that we have to find ways of enabling more people to work in service industries in relation to those who work in manufacturing industry. That means findings ways of transferring some of the wealth that is being created by modern capital-intensive manufacturing industry into an effective demand for services.

Bearing in mind my right hon. Friend's earlier replies about technology and industrial change, does he agree that it is imperative that the Government begin to examine a strategy including continued education, training and work experience for young people, paid education and training leave for those in employment and the possibility of early retirement and work sharing, as well as the other measures that he mentioned?

I accept that all those factors have a part to play, but that is especially so of training measures for young people. A changing manpower situation will mean a requirement for many people to retrain to obtain employment and, therefore, a far greater flexibility of approach.

Is not the best way of transferring the wealth created by capital-intensive industries into a demand for services a reduction in direct taxation?

No, not at all. One area that I believe has a major part to play is that of public services. If direct taxation contributes to improving hospital and school services and other public services, it will contribute to greater employment in those areas.

Special Temporary Employment Programme


asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he is satisfied that the special temporary employment programme involves less paperwork and administration that the job creation scheme; and if he will make a statement.

I am informed by the Manpower Services Commission that although paperwork and administration involved in the running of the special temporary employment programme will be slightly more than for the job creation programme, they will be kept to the minimum consistent with both making a success of the programme, and accounting properly for the use of public funds.

Is the Minister aware that that is a disappointing answer? Is he further aware that more than three months elapsed between the application of the Christchurch Council for job creation scheme assistance for work on the restoration of Highcliffe Castle, in my constituency, and the actual start of the scheme? As the Council has now applied to the Manpower Services Commission for an extension of that scheme from the original 13 weeks, will the Minister do his best to ensure that this is expedited as quickly as possible?

I shall certainly draw the attention of the Manpower Services Commission to that example.

Will my hon. Friend refute the suggestion that the job creation programme was top-heavy with either administration or paper work? Is it not the case that, on average, no more than 3 per cent. was spent on administration and a most marvellous job was done? Will he encourage those responsible, both for STEP and the youth opportunities programme, to do their best to ensure maximum local involvement in the running of these schemes under the area boards that have been set up?

I confirm that the cost of administration was only 2 per cent. It has been increased to only 2·2 per cent. That is a very good record. Certainly, we as a Government want as much local involvement as possible both in the youth opportunities programme and STEP.

Is the Minister aware that certain East Anglian firms have been sent mimeographed letters saying that their applications for temporary employment help cannot be dealt with for at least 10 weeks? Since this means that in many cases the jobs have disappeared before the Department gets round to trying to save them, will he do something about it? Does he realise that if he does not do so it will be a case of trying to deal with the disease after the patient has died?

It appears that there is a plea from the Conservative Benches for additions to the number of public servants dealing with this problem.

Manpower Services Commission


asked the Secretary of State for Employment when he last met the Chairman of the Manpower Services Commission.

I last met the chairman of the Manpower Services Commission on 24th April 1978.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that much as the youth opportunities scheme is welcome, there is very great fear that the complete insensitivity of the Manpower Services Commission to local needs is jeopardising the Government's objective of giving every young person some opportunity this year? Can he tell us when the MSC will issue specific guidelines to local authorities and voluntary organisations about how to set up co-operative schemes and when every local area in the country will have a local committee so that local needs can be taken into consideration?

I can tell my hon. Friend that guidelines and handbooks covering all parts of the youth opportunities programme are now available from the MSC's area offices. Many local authorities have already taken the initiative—which we welcome—in setting up local committees to assess needs and plan projects. It has always been our intention, in dealing with the Manpower Services Commission, that the area boards should be guided and should work in close co-operation with local area committees, since although there is a wide scope within the youth opportunities programme to institute various elements of the programme, it should be done in a way that is highly sensitive to local needs.

Has the chairman of the Manpower Services Commission explained to the Government how the Commission will overcome the shortage of trainers and instructors in order that the youth opportunities programme can get off the ground fully in September? Can he say how much information the Government have about the way in which the Commission is approaching employers for the use of their premises for training purposes?

With regard to the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question, the MSC is funded to employ about 8,000 adults—preferably recruited from the ranks of the unemployed—to instruct and supervise in the youth opportunities programme. This relates to the second part of the question, because in trying to develop certain of the projects within employers' premises—particularly the work experience schemes—we have worked out with the MSC a number of direct approaches to employers as well as a general advertising campaign. We are hoping for a response that will enable the doubling of the present work experience element of the programme.

When my right hon. Friend next meets the chairman of the MSC, will he ask him why the television advertising and leaflets for the engineering training schemes depict only men, thereby giving the impression that only men may apply?

I certainly shall. It was not my intention that any advertising by the MSC should give the impression that there is a bias in favour of men.



asked the Secretary of State for Employment what proposals he has for protecting journalists from the imposition of a closed shop.

The application of closed shop agreements to journalists is one of the matters which under the terms of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Amendment) Act 1976 must be covered in the draft charter of Press freedom which my right hon. Friend is required by that Act to prepare and submit to Parliament. However, I cannot yet say when it will be possible to lay a draft before Parliament.

Does the Minister recognise the need for protection of this kind and that this need is growing? When does he propose to introduce his draft Press charter, which has been hanging on for a very long time?

As regards the time, I think the House will recognise that it made sense to wait until the Royal Commission reported. It reported in June, since when I have personally conducted a very long series of consultations with the many representatives of both sides of the industry. I hope that the hon. Gentleman would expect me to give full consideration to all the views that have been expressed to me. I still wait to have consultations with the TUC, the CBI and the Press Council before the consultations can be concluded and before, therefore, we can propose a draft to Parliament.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that the best protection that journalists had was when the present Government and this House repealed the stupid attempts by the Conservative Party to put the trade union movement in shackles? However, in the context of the talks on the charter, will my hon. Friend say whether the Newspaper Publishers Association has yet been able to speak with one voice on this important topic?

With regard to the first part of my hon. Friend's question, it is certainly true that what we have done is basically to restore the law to what it was before 1971. Attempts in the 1971 Act to outlaw the closed shop had the opposite effect and resulted in the loss, in 1972, of 24 million working days due to disputes.

On the second part of the question, no, the Newspaper Publishers Association has not been able to speak with one voice. One of the difficulties that we have experienced has been that instead of listening to one voice from Fleet Street, we have had to listen to another.

Is the Minister satisfied that there is no restriction on bona fide journalists gaining entry to an appropriate trade union?

Will the Minister confirm that any charter laid before this House will contain complete freedom of access for all people to the Press at all times and, secondly, that there will be an undertaking that a journalist can join a union or not join a union according to his choice? When will this be laid before the House, because no other charter will have a majority here?

I think that I have indicated the difficulties with which we are faced with regard to timing. My right hon. Friend is anxious that we should come before the House with the draft charter as soon as practicable.

On the two specific points that the right hon. Gentleman has raised, yes, access to the Press will be one of the matters that will be covered and is required by the Act to be covered by the charter. It would be rather premature for me to reflect now on precisely what the charter will say. On the second point—the proposal that the charter should contain a right for every journalist to belong or not to belong to a trade union—again, obviously that will have to await the charter, but I would personally find it very difficult to reconcile that with the debate in both Houses that led to the concept of a Press charter and, indeed, the terms of the parent Act itself.



asked the Secretary of State for Employment what recent studies have been made by his Department into the incidence and scope, as well as the numbers involved, in unemployment lasting more than six months in the outer boroughs of the Greater London area; and how many people were in this category at the latest date for which official figures are available.

At January 1978, 25,059 people who had been unemployed for over six months were registered at those employment offices corresponding most closely with the Outer London boroughs. No special studies have recently been made into the features of long-term unemployment in the outer London boroughs.

Although Greater London has never had to endure the terrible unemployment figures of the North-East and North-West, is it not a colossal indictment of the present complacent and incompetent Government that for the first time deep-seated, long-lasting structural unemployment is actually now a feature in the outer London boroughs, including my own area of Harrow, as well as inner London? When will the Government really tackle this problem as well as national unemployment?

The hon. Gentleman is exaggerating very considerably the problems of the outer London boroughs. I accept, of course, that there are pockets of high unemployment and that there are structural problems, but I think that the hon. Gentleman is exaggerating very considerably.

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will ask his friends at County Hall, who now control that place, whether they think that their suggestion of axing about 10,000 public sector jobs will help employment prospects in London.

Is my hon. Friend aware that much of the responsibility for stripping London of its employment lies with the Opposition and the policies that they carried out when in power, including the sort of asset stripping that went on left, right and centre within London? Can my hon. Friend guarantee that none of the policies of his Department will inhibit the attempts of local authorities in London to bring industry back?

I certainly would not dissent from my hon. Friend's opening remarks. As for guaranteeing the future, I think that most of the efforts of my Department in this respect have been very helpful to London.

Closed Shop Agreements (Public Sector)


asked the Secretary of State for Employment in which industries in the public sector there are closed shop agreements; and whether he will make a statement about the policy of the Government towards the closed shop.

The information is not readily available. The Government have consistently maintained a position of neutrality on the subject of closed shop agreements. We believe that whether they should be introduced—and, if so, in what form—is a matter to be determined by agreement between the employers and trade unions concerned.

Is the Minister aware that in the publicly owned British Railways 40 employees have been dismissed for refusing to join a trade union and that two more were dismissed when they resigned from their trade unions? How does he reconcile the Government's policy of neutrality towards these matters with Article 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that each worker shall have the right to free choice of employment?

I sometimes wonder whether the hon. Gentleman listens, because we have been having this dialogue over many months now and I have repeatedly pointed out to him that these are matters on which it would be quite inappropriate for the Government to interfere. I have said repeatedly that we would hope that where union membership agreements were entered into they would be handled in a flexible and tolerant manner—[Interruption.] It would be quite inappropriate for the Government to be dictating to any employer or trade union, in a way that the Opposition tried to do and failed, about whether or not they should enter into union membership agreements.

With regard to the operation of the closed shop, has my hon. Friend looked into the situation at Thomson Regional Newspapers, where the journalists are at present subject to a lock-out? Would it not seem that the militant tendencies in this industry at least belong essentially to the employers?

Of course, it should be recognised that there are difficulties with employers as well as with trade unions in this respect. But, in the particular case that my hon. Friend has mentioned, I think that it would be equally inappropriate for me to comment or to seek to intervene in that situation. If the services of ACAS can be helpful, they are available to be called upon.

Will the Minister say how the neutrality which he and the Government say they have towards a closed shop differers from the neutrality of Pontius Pilate washing his hands?

The hon. Gentleman ought to try to think of something original. I think that that is at least the second time that he has tried that. The Government's position, in accordance with our General Election manifesto commitment, was that we would revert the law to that which applied before the Industrial Relations Act 1971, and that is the law which has applied for many years in this country, and that is the law now. I have pointed out—and I regret that I have to do it again—that when the Opposition tried to outlaw closed shops, closed shops flourished in spite of that. The only result was that the Conservatives produced the most massive loss of working days due to industrial disputes that we have suffered since the General Strike.

Employment Protection Act


asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he remains satisfied with the operation of the Employment Protection Act.

Yes, but I am continuing to keep the working of the Act under review.

Is not one of the most worrying aspects of the Act the difficulty that small employers have in meeting its maternity requirements? Does the Minister agree that there is a case for relaxing the requirements, especially for small employers who engage principally female clerical labour?

This was one of the matters that was fully discussed when the Bill, as it then was, was before the House. In response to various moves made by hon. Members and the right hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) we tried to help smaller employers by making significant changes in the scheme to arrange for central funding rather than for individual employers to have to carry their own burden.

How can my hon. Friend be satisfied with the working of the Act when we have had two Bills frustrated by the Opposition—Bills that are destined to try to put the Act right and to have workers consulted on what is happening in a factory? Is my right hon. Friend aware that although the Conservative Party is always talking about law and order it is conniving at producing more Grunwicks and preventing the two Bills to which I have referred passing through the House?

It would be unfortunate if our satisfaction with the Act misled the House into thinking that we do not think that some reforms are necessary. I believe that the reforms that have been put before the House would be a significant strengthening of the Act to enable it to deal with the sort of problems of which we have had experience in recent months. I regret that the Opposition have deliberately obstructed the passage of those Bills.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the answer to the Question about the Act, together with the answers that have been given throughout the afternoon by his fellow Ministers, shows that the Government are completely bankrupt of ideas of how to deal with the unemployment situation? Does he realise that even those on his own side of the Chamber, let alone the TUC, are reduced to silence on this issue? The only person who can say anything is the Prime Minister, and he seeks to mislead everyone.

I am sure that that wild, generalised statement will not be much help to the House. It might have been a little more constructive if the right hon. Gentleman had told the House, as we have repeatedly asked him to do, what changes in the Act he and his party would consider necessary. At some time he may care to tell us.



I have at present no plans to visit Maidstone.

Is the Prime Minister aware of the sharp deterioration in the quality of life in Maidstone and in Kent in the past five years, due to the fact that the present Government have not given Kent its fair share of Government expenditure? Is he aware that our hospitals are delayed, our motorways are delayed, north-south roads are delayed and environmental matters, such as the production of TDI and other chemicals, are not producing new jobs but are spoiling people's lives?

I note that the hon. Gentleman, in contradistinction to the Opposition Front Bench, seems to believe that we should be spending more public money on hospitals and on roads. Having listened to him, I feel rather like the British general who, in Singapore, found that his guns were facing the wrong way.

Prime Minister (Engagements)


asked the Prime Minister if he will list his public engagements for 2nd May.

In addition to my duties in this House, I shall be holding meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. This evening I hope to have an Audience of Her Majesty The Queen.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that many people will welcome the Government's decision to send the Chief of Defence Staff to Peking to try to forge closer defence links with that country? Is he aware that many will also welcome the forthright statement made by the Chief of Defence Staff, appropriately enough on May Day? Will he take this opportunity to make it clear to those in his party who echo the Kremlin line that he approves of the way in which Sir Neil Cameron is doing his job and that he will do nothing to prevent his continuing to do his job?

It is true that the Government seek to improve relations with China. That has been why a number of Ministers and others have visited that great country in recent years. We shall continue to improve relations with China, but I emphasise that that will not be at the expense of our relations with any of the other major countries in the world. I do not believe that that will be the policy of either party.

When taking an Audience of Her Majesty this evening, will my right hon. Friend ask Her Majesty whether it is possible for her to give more favourable consideration to attending more often the Football Association Cup Final?

The discussions that take place between the Prime Minister and the Queen are, by all the usual conventions, kept confidential. The answer to my hon. Friend's supplementary question is "No, Sir".

Why does the Prime Minister not stand up for what Sir Neil Cameron said this week? Why did he not stand up for the defence chiefs last week? Why does he not do more to sort out the pro-Soviet grout, on his side of the House? Are not those hon. Members the real mischief-makers in defence affairs?

I am not quite sure what the right hon. Lady is intending concerning relations with the Soviet Union, but a year ago, after her visit to China, I understood her to say that she did not wish to see relations with the Soviet Union impaired. No more do I. I hope that that is still her view.

As for standing up for what has been said, I gather that Sir Neil Cameron was responding to a spontaneous toast by the local comander of the unit that he was visiting, and that he made an unscripted and impromptu reply.

In case there is any misunderstanding, or in case the Conservative Party wishes to change the constitutional conventions, I repeat that the formulation of British foreign policy is the responsibility of Her Majesty's Ministers. The remarks made by Sir Neil Cameron on this occasion should not be regarded as altering, extending, modifying or changing in any way the present relationships between Britain and China or between Britain and the Soviet Union.

Will the Prime Minister, therefore, say whether he supports Sir Neil Cameron or not?

This is a matter in which there is a constitutional relationship between the Chiefs of Staff and the British Government. I certainly should not enter into that kind of discussion with the right hon. Lady on this matter. What is important in our relations with the Soviet Union, which the Opposition do not seem to take very seriously, on occasion, is that we should continue to work for detente and for a measure of disarmament. If the Opposition do not wish that, they have changed their policy since the right hon. Lady put it forward as her policy a year ago.

Does my right hon. Friend think it coincidental that over the past few weeks there have been many attempts to drive a wedge between the Government and the Services? Will he say that, whatever his general views, the views expressed by the Defence Chief in Peking were unwise, to say the least?

I think that the various things that have blown up over the last few weeks have been coincidental. I do not think that Sir Neil Cameron went out of his way, because he has made only one public speech on this matter, to which no one would take any exception at all. I think that he made one or two remarks which, as the Opposition spokesman on defence said on the radio at 1 0'clock, might have been phrased a little differently, but that is an entirely different matter. I do not think that the right hon. Lady is helping our relations with both these Powers by putting the kind of question that she has been putting this afternoon.


asked the Prime Minister whether he will list his official engagements for 2nd May.

I refer the hon. Member to the reply which I gave earlier today to the hon. Member for Christchurch and Lymington (Mr. Adley).

As the Prime Minister betrayed the Armed Forces of the Crown in his statement last week about their pay settlement—[HON. MEMBERS: "Shame."]—will he now not betray their professional head and give a clear statement today—preferably now—that he gives unequivocal support to the views expressed in China by the Chief of the Defence Staff?

The Chief of the Defence staff said that he was speaking on military matters, not on political questions. In so far as he was speaking on military matters, of course he would have the support of Her Majesty's Government. However, in so far as he was speaking on political matters, it is for him to support the policy of Her Majesty's Government.

Does my right hon. Friend understand that, as a result of earlier exchanges, at the next election the Leader of the Opposition will jettison "The Right Approach" in favour of Mao Tse Tung's "Little Red Book"?

I note that there is a difference in the right hon. Lady's attitude according to which Communist regime she happens to have visited. Both Yugoslavia and China are in her good books. She has visited both countries. The Soviet Union is not in her good books. She has not yet visited it. I do not know whether her opinion will change if she does, but I promise her that my opinion will change about neither of these States according to whether I visit them or not. Neither of them fits my concept of the way in which this country wants to go.

If there is to be this burgeoning planned friendship with the Soviet Union about which the Prime Minister is talking, what does he have to say about the fact that there are three Russian tanks for every NATO tank at the door of Central Europe at the moment?

I have as much to say about that, which is not related to my official engagements for today, as I have said on earlier occasions, namely, that I think that it is a source of considerable disquiet. I have often said that the Soviet Union, by building up its armed forces in this way, is undoubtedly adding to the tension that exists. But that is nothing to do with picking and choosing between various Communist regimes, which the right hon. Lady is seeking to do.

Could my right hon. Friend leave aside for the moment the urgings of the Opposition and, in the light of what Sir Neil Cameron said, state the Government's overall position on the possibility of arms sales to China?

I could not do that in reply to a question this afternoon. A number of considerations have to be borne in mind and they are being taken into account now. There has been no formal discussion on this matter with the Chinese.

For once, my question relates to the Prime Minister's engagements today. Could he fit in one further engagement today and listen to the regional election results tonight on the radio from Scotland and note the profound defeat that the Labour Party will have at the hands of the Conservatives?

Unfortunately I cannot get Scotland on my set. When I tried to listen to the news on the set in my hotel in Glasgow early this morning, all I could get was punk rock music.

European Community


asked the Prime Minister when he next expects to meet the EEC Heads of Government.

I expect to meet the Heads of Government of some of the member States of the EEC at the meeting of the North Atlantic Council in Washington on 30th and 31st May. I shall also be attending a meeting of the European Council in Bremen on 6th and 7th July.

Does the Prime Minister remember his promise that there would be a fundamental reform of the common agricultural policy? As the British taxpayer will soon be paying about £1,000 million a year, net, into the Common Market budget, and with British food production at a lower level than it was five years ago, will he admit that he has totally broken that promise to the British people?

The common agricultural policy has been changing throughout the lifetime of this Government, beginning with the original premiums in respect of beef which were introduced some time ago, and my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture is fighting for further changes now. That ought to have the approval, not the censure, of the hon. Gentleman, especially as we are trying to keep down the structural surpluses which are disfiguring Continental agriculture at the present time.

When my right hon. Friend next meets the EEC Heads of State, will he discuss with them how they can bring pressure to bear to modify the hard-line stance of Israel on the Middle East negotiations and give further support to President Sadat's initiative?

I shall certainly see whether there is any desire to discuss this matter at the next meeting of the European Council, but it is rather a long way away—6th and 7th July. I hope that the discussions that President Carter is now about to have with Prime Minister Begin and the further discussions that may take place between Prime Minister Begin and President Sadat will lead to some movement and progress on this matter before we meet in July.

If the Prime Minister is going to boast that he will prevent the Common Market from not allowing daily doorstep deliveries of milk, when he knows perfectly well that the Common Market has no intention of stopping them, will he be careful not to remind his Common Market colleagues of the way in which he once boasted that he would prevent British trawlers from being chased out of Icelandic waters?

I was not aware that I had boasted about anything of that sort. As for the Milk Marketing Board—I hope that the Opposition are in agreement—we should not allow ourselves to be driven to make fundamental alterations to the Board. That is exactly what the Minister of Agriculture is trying to do now.

In regard to the Prime Minister's earlier answer, does he accept that all on the Government side of the House will warmly welcome the firm statement of good will towards the Soviet Union that he made, reaffirming that it is the intention of the Labour Party to pursue with the utmost vigour the whole question of nuclear disarmament—