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Prime Minister (Engagements)

Volume 977: debated on Thursday 31 January 1980

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Q4.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her public engagements for Thursday 31 January.

I refer the hon. Member to the reply that I gave earlier today to the hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud).

Following yesterday's farcical meetings over our EEC budget contributions, are the Prime Minister and her ministerial colleagues aware that the increasing inflation and unemployment, together with further public spending cuts—estimated at £2 billion, and said to be coming from present allocations—mean that the Government are heading for the biggest confrontation with the trade union and Labour movement since the war?

Certainly not. I do not accept the premise in the hon. Gentleman's question in any way. With regard to the question that I at first thought that he was asking, concerning yesterday's meeting with Signor Cossiga, if that was his question, my reply is that it was not disastrous in any way. The European Community is moving towards our position—

The European Community is moving towards our position, but I made it perfectly clear that it is not moving far enough or fast enough for my liking.

I am sure that we all hope that the right hon. Lady is right when she says that the European Community is moving towards our position, but is it the case that we are moving towards the Community's position? In other words, has the right hon. Lady now departed from the statement that she made to the House, namely, that she is insisting on a broad balance between our payments and receipts?

I cannot change the answer that I have given to this question many, many times since we returned from Dublin. We seek a genuine compromise, but we have very little room for manoeuvre. I have used that phrase and will continue to use it because it is true.

Would the right hon. Lady now care to answer the question? Has she moved from her position or is she moving?

I have, indeed, answered the right hon. Gentleman. He was very, very critical of the approach that I adopted in Dublin. The approach that I adopted in Dublin was that I would not be palmed off with some £350 million.

The answer, if the right hon. Gentleman cannot hear, is that at the end of Dublin I said that the position that we adopted was one of genuine compromise but that we had little room for manoeuvre. If the right hon. Gentleman had not left me such an awful problem, we should not have to be considering it right now.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the whole country, if not the whole House, is entirely behind her in her efforts to reduce our EEC contribution? Is she further aware that she is admired for not coming back from Dublin pretending that she had some hollow victory? Does she agree that her case would be far stronger if she had the support of the Opposition?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. If I may say so, I believe that some of my European colleagues were a lot more shaken than I was.

Will the Prime Minister confirm that she intends to inter- vene in the dispute between the Department of Trade and the Department of Industry over the possible awarding of contracts for a new air traffic control systems for this country to the United States? Is she aware that, if that happens, it will not only mean redundancies for workers in this country but the possible future loss of exports? In comparing the competitive bids from Britain will she bear in mind that the Americans have enjoyed State funding in research and development?

No. I do not intend to intervene. The chairman of the Civil Aviation Authority is the person who is responsible for its operation and the security of air traffic control. I must leave it to him.

Since there is no monopoly on the collection and delivery of newspapers or the collection and delivery of parcels, has the Prime Minister had time today to consider whether there remains a justification for a monopoly on the collection and delivery of letters?

I believe that what my hon. Friend is saying is that where there is a monopoly that is a bad bargain for the public, that results in very high prices without commensurate service. I agree with my hon. Friend. [HON. MEMBERS: "Gas."] The Post Office's prices are going up today. Nationalised industries with a monopoly are a bad bargain for the consumer, and I hope that one day we shall be able to remove that monopoly.

Will the Prime Minister say why she did not adhere to her principle of non-intervention in the case of the gas industry? Since the Chancellor of the Exchequer said that pay awards would be based on the successful running of industries, what figure does she have in mind for the substantial increases due to the workers in that industry?

It is surely right, where public money is involved, to set a reasonable rate of return on public money. I wish that there were more nationalised industries from which we received a reasonable rate of return instead of having a very large number that take out of the pool of wealth that this country creates.

Will my right hon. Friend find time today to consider the growing demand from a majority of people in this country that an individual and his dependants should not be kept by the taxpayer when he is on strike? What measure will she introduce to fulfil the pledge given in our manifesto to bring that about?

At present we have no particular proposals to bring forward, but we should clearly understand that a person is primarily responsible for keeping his family. We expect him fully to discharge that duty. Equally, we expect trade unions, when they bring people out on strike, to make some contribution to their income during that period.

Q5.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 31 January.

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply that I gave earlier to the hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud).

In view of the steadily deteriorating industrial situation, may I ask whether the Prime Minister has turned her mind recently to the iniquitous Industrial Relations Act of the last Tory Government'? Does she remember the jailing of the five dockers, when the Official Solicitor had to step in and do something about that matter? When will the right hon. Lady do something about the steel workers, in view of Lord Denning's judgment? Does she not realise that the entire trade union movement is ready to fight back if she tries to hamstring them by the laws that she is trying to introduce against them? Should not the right hon. Lady do something to bring the situation to fruition?

I am more concerned with the present Employment Bill which, I believe, has the support of the vast majority of trade unionists in the country—even though that fact does not suit the hon. Gentleman. As the hon. Gentleman knows, leave to appeal to their Lordships' House against the Denning judgment was granted this morning.