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Prime Minister (Engagements)

Volume 958: debated on Tuesday 21 November 1978

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asked the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 21st November.

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

During the course of the Prime Minister's visit, will he pause to reflect upon the rather wretched Ford strike? Does he not agree that Ford has no part in this strike in reality, and that apart from the £ 450 million that it will have cost the company in lost revenue, the cost to public funds has been enormous? Will he now give an undertaking that, provided Ford continues to quote better deliveries and lower prices, he will not give instructions to his Departments that they are forbidden to purchase Ford vehicles? If not, will he say why not?

I often reflect on the Ford strike and the consequences of it, including the fact that, if the workers accept the latest offer—that is. their present rate of pay plus 17 per cent. —it will probably mean that over the next 12 months they will be no better off than if they had avoided a nine-weeks' strike and had accepted 5 per cent. I often reflect on that.

I shall not give any instructions on this matter. If there is a decision by the Government to refrain from purchasing any particular products, as they are entitled to do as a customer, the firm in question will be notified in the first place.

Has my right hon. Friend had an opportunity to contact Chancellor Schmidt about his recent speech on the expansion of powers of the European Assembly? Will he say that Her Majesty's Government remain determined to keep to the undertaking, made during the debate on the direct elections? Will he say to Chancellor Schmidt that we do not agree with what he has said?

No, Sir, I have not contacted Chancellor Schmidt about it. I dare say there will be some discussion on the matter at the next European Council. We shall continue to enunciate the policy, as my hon. Friend says, that we have enunciated so far. Whether there is any change in Chancellor Schmidt's position will become clear when we have our discussions.

May I ask the Prime Minister a question about the bakers' strike. Is he aware that the general secretary of the Bakers' Union is threatening those who stay at work that he will use the closed shop legislation to see that they are sacked? Will the Prime Minister condemn those threats?

I have been checking and it is clear that the union cannot use any closed shop legislation for this purpose. The closed shop is a matter for agreement between the employers and the employees. I understand that the employers have said that they would not insist on a closed shop in this particular case.

So the Prime Minister clearly condemns those threats and the use of his own Government's legislation in that way?

At the risk of misrepresentation by the right hon. Lady, which I have no doubt I shall get, I do not believe that it is sensible for me to utter obiter dicta on every industrial dispute that arises and so inflame what is taking place, and I refuse to do so.

Does not my right hon. Friend agree that, if Ford had settled in the early days of the negotiations, that would have avoided a dispute? Bearing in mind that Ford has made a statement that it could absorb the increase without increasing prices, would not that have been a better way of dealing with the problem?

I have not conducted these negotiations with the Ford company and I do not think that the House of Commons is a very good place in which to conduct them—nor, indeed, at the Dispatch Box. Increases in earnings have certain profound consequences on the rate of inflation, on growth and on investment. It is my responsibility to point that out. It is the responsibility of those who negotiate on both sides of industry to see how those particular national consequences fit their individual situations.