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Prime Minister(Engagements)

Volume 958: debated on Thursday 16 November 1978

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asked the Prime Minister whether he will list his official engagements for 16th November.

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, including one with the Vice-Premier of China, Mr. Wang Chen. This evening I hope to attend a dinner given by President Eanes of Portugal in honour of Her Majesty The Queen.

Will the Prime Minister make his right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food one of those whom he consults in the remaining part of the day? Will he assure him that he has set no Christmas deadline for the settling of the EEC fisheries dispute? Indeed, will he take the opportunity to refute some of the speculation in the fishing press that he has agreed with Chancellor Schmidt that that should be done because, if we cannot get fair terms by Christmas, we must continue to press for them?

No. I shall not be consulting the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food today. My right hon. Friend knows perfectly well what is the policy of the Cabinet, and I do not think that I need to repeat it.

In view of my right hon. Friend's proposed meeting with the Chinese Vice-Premier, will he tell the House what is Her Majesty's Government's policy on the selling of Harrier aircraft to the Chinese People's Republic?

No, Sir. I am about to meet the Vice-Premier, and therefore I do not wish to go into details before I have discussed these matters with him. I would only say that, as a general matter, this country's desire is that there should be a high level of civilian trade with the Chinese People's Republic and that we should not just be regarded as its arms suppliers.

May I ask the Prime Minister a question about pay policy? Bearing in mind that in 1974 the right hon. Gentleman publicly urged the miners not to accept a pay settlement of 16 per cent., is it his policy now to stick to 5 per cent. in the present pay round for the nationalised industries; and, if so, how does he intend to enforce it?

I have nothing to add to what I have said before in reply to similar questions from the right hon. Lady. It is quite clear that I can never satisfy her whatever I say. [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."] But I can assure her that I shall not be including this matter in my official engagements for today.

As one of the right hon. Gentleman's official engagements for the day is to answer Questions from the Dispatch Box, will he say whether he intends to stick to 5 per cent. in this pay round for the nationalised industries and, if so, how he proposes to enforce it?

The Chancellor of the Exchequer made this absolutely clear yesterday and, unlike the Opposition, we do not change our policy from day to day on pay or on anything else.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer referred us to the policies in the White Paper, and I have sought to refresh my memory. Here is the White Paper! Which paragraph? Which policies?

In the course of a busy day, will the Prime Minister consult his right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and confirm with him that he rather under-did his figures at the Guildhall on Monday? Will my right hon. Friend confirm that instead of just £2 billion supporting exports on world markets from the EEC, the total figure for support prices is in fact £5·2 billion and that, in addition to that, there is another £700 million towards storage costs, making the total support cost nearly £6 billion?

If my hon. Friend reads my speech again—I noticed his apparent correction of what I said and therefore went back and checked it—he will find that I was exactly accurate. He has taken a different base.

May I ask the Prime Minister whether he agrees with the speech made yesterday by Mr. Tom Jackson and, if so, whether he will find an opportunity today to tell the people whether his Government's industrial strategy is still firmly based on planning agreements which have never come to pass and on co-operation with the unions which has finally disintegrated?

With respect, there is I believe, a limitation on what is in order in this House and, although Conservative Members do not want to keep any order as long as they are on the Opposition Benches, it is really not my responsibility to comment on the speeches made outside this House by persons for whom I have no direct responsibility.

My right hon. Friend told us that he presided over a Cabinet meeting this morning. Will he tell us whether the Cabinet discussed grants for children of 16 who remain at school, and what was its decision?

My right hon. Friend is very tempting. However, even in these days of freedom of information, I believe that it ought to be possible for people to get together now and again and have a private discussion, without having to reveal it all afterwards.

Although the Prime Minister told the House that he was cogitating on the question of further action on the Bingham report, could he now give an assurance to the House that there will be an inquiry into the enormous sums of money and naval time wasted on the Beira patrol?

I read the right hon. Gentleman's impartial letter in The Times today. I think that we had better wait and see, when the report comes forward, what it includes and whether the terms of reference—[An HON. MEMBER: "Which one?"] The report on the matter that is now being prepared, which will be placed before the House, and upon which we shall put our conclusions to the House. I can tell the right hon. Gentleman that I think he will be satisfied that such terms of reference will cover all his anxieties.

During the course of the day, could my right hon. Friend find time to send a message to the CBI pointing out to it that for more than two years the British trade union movement has endeavoured to keep within the voluntary guidelines in the fight against inflation but that there has been no response from it—the CBI—apropos prices, and that it, too, has a contribution to make in the fight against inflation? Will he ask it to mend its ways and encourage some control of prices, to match the endeavours of our working people in wage control?

It is important that we should tackle that matter from the prices end, and I am glad to say that there has been considerable progress on the subject, especially in the nationalised industries, both in the interval that takes place between one price increase and another and in the total amount of the increase. I think that we can continue with that progress, provided that there are moderate wage settlements based on the White Paper which the Leader of the Opposition so courteously handed to me.