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Prime Minister (Engagements)

Volume 957: debated on Tuesday 7 November 1978

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asked the Prime Minister if he will state his official engagements for 7th November.

This morning I met the Foreign Minister of Poland. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall be holding further meetings with ministerial colleagues and others.

It is a shame that the Prime Minister will not be listening to the debate on Rhodesia. Does he recognise that the Government's attempt to lose the Bingham report within that debate is unacceptable to the House? Will he now make a categorical statement that there will be a debate solely on Bingham, and that he in his capacity as Prime Minister will make a statement on what action is to be taken against the politicians involved?

I am sorry to disappoint the hon. Gentleman, but I hope to listen to a great deal of the debate on Rhodesia. I think that when the hon. Gentleman and the House hear the Foreign Secretary's speech, if he is fortunate enough to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, they will find a great deal of it is devoted to a review of the Bingham report. From certain documents that I see on the laps of right hon. and hon. Members, I have a feeling that we shall hear a great deal more about the Bingham report.

I do not blame anyone for this, but I am not sure that the arrangements have turned out as I had hoped. I had hoped that we would have two days on Bingham in the course of the debate on the Queen's Speech, and that was why we extended the debate by a day. It is a day longer than usual. But I understand that there is a difference of view. The Opposition wish—it is within their power and I do not complain—to spend two days on the current situation in Rhodesia, but that will not prevent Government spokesmen from devoting their time to an analysis of Bingham.

If my right hon. Friend can find some time today to telephone his colleagues in the EEC Council of Ministers, will he assure them that Britain has no intention of associating herself in any way with the European monetary system?

I shall not be conducting such telephone calls, so I fear that the consequences of my hon. Friend's question do not arise.

As one of the Prime Minister's duties today is to answer questions from the Dispatch Box, will he say whether he intends to persist in blacklisting firms which breach his pay policy? Or does he intend, perhaps, to adopt the TUC's policy of putting new price controls on industry?

I take it, then, that the Prime Minister still intends to apply blacklisting sanctions to Ford.

If the right hon. Lady had read the White Paper, she would know the answer.

I have read the White Paper, and it does not mention Ford. Does the Prime Minister intend to apply blacklisting sanctions to the proposed pay settlement at Ford's?


asked the Prime Minister whether he will list his engagements for 7th November.

I refer my hon. Friend to the reply which I have just given to the hon. Member for Northampton, South (Mr. Morris).

Will my right hon. Friend find time today to continue his discussions with the TUC on pay policy, and will he make a statement to the TUC, and also state publicly, that he will crack down very hard on, and blacklist if necessary, Tory councils which put up rents by more than 5 per cent. and on the proposal to put an increase of 12p per gallon on petrol, and crack down also on £30 television licences and on house prices, which have gone up by 25 per cent. this year, none of which is caused by wage increases and all of which must be kept down if the unions are to accept the policy?

There is no reason why rents should go up by an extortionate amount this year, and advice is being given to local authorities along these lines. I hope that the increases will be kept to single figures, as, indeed, I hope that the increase in earnings will be kept to single figures. I am bound to say that there cannot be an exact interaction between any single price increase and the increase in earnings, although the nationalised industries have done well. If we can achieve an increase in earnings based on 5 per cent. settlements, on our present information and understanding and on the best forecast that can be made, we can have inflation down to somewhere between 5 per cent. and 6 per cent. by the end of next year.

If the Prime Minister cannot tell us whether he intends to blacklist Ford for its settlement—although it is already clear that it will be above the Government's guidelines—perhaps he can tell us whether he intends to blacklist the TUC, which has entered into an agreement to pay its employees 60 per cent. more in three equal instalments of 20 per cent. over the next three years.

The decision on Ford will be taken in due course, but I cannot be harried at the Dispatch Box— [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"]—even by the frenzied shouts of the supporters of the right hon. Lady, into announcing a decision before it is ready. The House need have no fear; it will know when a decision is taken.

With regard to the TUC, I understand that the Secretary of State for Employment is inquiring into the matter.

Did my right hon. Friend see the television programme "Panorama" last night, which reported on illegal arms exports to South Africa? If not, will he during the course of the day obtain a transcript of the programme and take appropriate action?

No, Sir, I did not see the broadcast, but it was brought to my notice that there had been an alleged illegal export of arms to South Africa via Antigua. If that is so, I think that the BBC has done a service, although I understand that inquiries have been made before and that the American and Canadian Governments had been investigating this matter because the company concerned straddles the border. The British Government will decide what their responsibilities are in the matter and will follow it up if necessary.

Has the Prime Minister had time to acquaint himself with the contents of the report in last Saturday's issue of The Guardian on the Ford mass meeting? Is he aware that the reporter quoted the majority for staying out as just a majority, that the chief trade union negotiator reported it as four to one, that the chief shop steward reported it as six to one and that many men on the shop floor stated that there was a 60–40 majority for staying in and not coming out at all? Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that that report has nothing whatever to do with industrial democracy and is a straight description of industrial thuggery? What does he intend doing about it?

The various descriptions that have come from this meeting seem, on the whole, to lead to the conclusion that there was a majority for staying out. But I agree with the hon. Member that this is not a satisfactory way of conducting affairs, although we should not assume that it is unsatisfactory merely because the result went the way that I did not want it to go, whereas in the case of Vauxhall it went the way I did want it to go.

There was no protest then, as my hon. Friend reminds me. I say this to the hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Pardoe). I think it is a very unfortunate position. We have to be very careful how we talk to the trade unions about legislation on these matters. The last Government made such a mess of their legislation that this is a most sensitive area for discussions with the trade union movement at the moment. But if the trade union movement comes forward and says that it would like to alter the system and that it would like some legislation to do this. certainly I should respond.