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Prime Minister (Engagements)

Volume 955: debated on Thursday 3 August 1978

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asked the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for 3rd August.

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

I recognise the integrity of the Prime Minister's endeavours, but, with reference to his official activities, since this may be his last appearance at the Dispatch Box, will he find time now to tell us which of his political achievements in his official capacity he thinks has been of most benefit to the nation? Was it when he was Home Secretary and gerrymandered the parliamentary boundaries or destroyed "In Place of Strife"? Was it when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1968 and helped to create the economic collapse and devalued the pound? Or is it now when, as Prime Minister, he has created record unemployment?

I think that the time has not yet come for me to write my autobiography. There will be plenty of time left for that in due course. However, at this interim stage in my early career—remembering, as I do, that Mr. Gladstone formed his last Administration at the age of 83, and I hope to emulate him in being the only other Prime Minister, apart from Lloyd George, to address the Welsh Eisteddfod in Cardiff on Sunday, so we have more than one thing in common—if I were asked such a question, I should like to think that perhaps the best service that I have rendered to the country has been in trying to rescue it from the ungovernable position in which it seemed to be left by the Conservative Party, in trying to create a sense of common endeavour and consensus between both sides of industry, and in overcoming the rate of inflation which was wished upon us by the Conservative Party.

As part of my official engagements on Tuesday, I was listening to my right hon. Friend answering Questions, and I heard a lot of comment from the Opposition Benches about the need to get rid of quangos. As part of his duties in the next Session, will my right hon. Friend take due account of that matter and get rid of the biggest quango of all—possibly without the support of the Tory Opposition—namely, the undemocratic House of Lords?

I am sure that my hon. Friend will not misunderstand me when I say that I am glad to see him restored to his usual rude state of health —and long may he continue in that way. As for the abolition of the House of Lords, this has been an aspiration of many of us for very many years. I am glad to say that it has been the policy of my party for many years. Because of the constitutional difficulties which I have seen in getting certain Bills through, it has not been possible yet to achieve it, but we must always strive onwards and upwards.

Did I understand from the Prime Minister that it is his aspiration also to get rid of the House of Lords. Does he likewise share the aspiration of his party to do without a second Chamber altogether?

I am glad that the right hon. Lady raises that question. I have never found any legitimate authority whatever for an undemocratic, unelected Chamber in this country, and I am astonished that the right hon. Lady should seek to defend it. That is not the basis of democracy about which she prates so much. As to a second Chamber, that is a different question. There are many examples in democratic societies of second Chambers which are elected, but I know of no one, save the reactionary Conservative Party, who would defend an unelected House of Lords.

Will my right hon. Friend find a moment today to look carefully at the business of bringing in some control by the House of Commons over EEC legislation so that, when we return in the autumn, the Government will be prepared to propose some mechanism which will enable us to look far more closely at EEC documents before they are passed?

There was a long discussion on this matter during the debate on the Adjournment motion on Tuesday, when the Lord President gave, I thought, a very satisfactory reply. He said that the Government wished to consider what further measures could be brought in, in conjunction with the Scrutiny Committee and discussion with the right hon. Member for Bournemouth, West (Sir. J. Eden). We shall continue to consider whether a resolution can be brought forward in the autumn which will not unduly fetter Ministers, enabling them to carry out their negotiating responsibilities, but will give the House of Commons adequate control, too.

Could the Prime Minister find a moment or two today to put down on a scrap of paper, placing it in the Library, those successes, however trivial, which his Government have had for which he has not claimed the credit and those disasters, however abominable, which they have created but which he has not blamed on forces outside his control?

I shall consider that proposal. If the House would wish it, I can take a minute or so now to state some of them. For example, the minimum lending rate is 2½ per cent. below the level when the hon. and learned Gentleman's Government were in office. Mortgage interest rates at 9¾ per cent. are 1¼ per cent. below what they were when the Tory Government left office. There is now a balance of payments surplus, and when they left office there was a deficit. I am glad to say that the rate of inflation has halved from the time when they were in office and is now 7·4 per cent. against about 13 per cent. when the Tories left office.

If the hon. and learned Gentleman would wish it, I could go on with a whole list of matters, but I shall spare his embarrassment by pointing out in conclusion that living standards are rising at a substantial rate.