HC Deb 30 November 1972 vol 847 cc616-9
Q1. Mr. Meacher

asked the Prime Minister if he will dismiss the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Edward Heath)

No, Sir. I do not propose to appoint or dismiss any Ministers or to increase or reduce the number of Ministers in any Department or to alter the present allocation of functions to Ministers or Departments unless and until I make a statement to the contrary.

Mr. Meacher

Will the Prime Minister dismiss the Chancellor of the Exchequer? Does he not realise that, contrary to the Chancellor's policies, a far more important cause of inflation today than wage push is the increasing monopolistic pricing power of the major corporations? The hundred largest companies in Britain now hold no less than 70 per cent. of the total assets of all quoted companies. When are the Government going to deal with the real causes of inflation, rather than follow their own phantom prejudices?

The Prime Minister

The Government are not responsible for the structure of public companies in this country. On the question of dealing with inflation, the Chancellor having reduced taxes by £3,000 million he cannot do more to reduce inflation.

Mr. Wyn Roberts

Has my right hon. Friend had a "Private Eye" view of recent editions of the Grocer? Has he noticed that for two weeks running up to last week no price rises were recorded in its lists, compared with an average of 150 in the previous weeks?

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend is correct, but I have not taken any notice of the Grocer before, and I shall not start now.

Q2. Mr. John Smith

asked the Prime Minister if he will dismiss the Paymaster-General.

The Prime Minister

No, Sir. I would refer the hon. Gentleman to the answer I gave earlier today in reply to a Question from the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher).

Mr. Smith

Is the Prime Minister aware that the Paymaster-General is going round to the public-spirited men who serve as trustees of our galleries in an attempt to blackmail and frighten them into agreeing that if they have a free day at their galleries they will put up charges on other days? Is not that a contemptible way for a Government Minister to behave? Does the Prime Minister know about that and, if he does, does he approve of it?

The Prime Minister

I cannot accept the hon. Gentleman's allegations, or his extravagant language. Parliament has laid down the law in this matter, and my right hon. and noble Friend is discussing, with certain of the galleries which wish to make changes, arrangements that are suitable to them. In a number of cases these have already been agreed.

Mr. Robert Cooke

Would my right hon. Friend concede that the arts are a highly controversial subject, and that a policy about which everyone agreed would probably be monumentally dull? Would he also agree that the Paymaster-General has many successes to his credit, notably the bringing of the arts to many more people in the regions?

The Prime Minister

I have no doubt about the controversial nature of the arts. As regards the regions, the grant to the Scottish Arts Council has increased from £950,000 in 1970–71 to £1,400,000 this year—an increase of £450,000. In England and Wales Arts Council grants to the regional arts associations have increased from £320,000 in 1970–71 to £800,000 in 1972–73—an increase of £480,000 in the time that we have been in office. I think that that demonstrates what is being done for the arts.

Mr. Strauss

Does the right hon. Gentleman really justify the action of the Paymaster-General in imposing entrance charges on children who want to visit our national treasures in galleries and museums solely for the sake of raising £150,000 a year for the Treasury?

The Prime Minister

We discussed this at great length at Question Time the week before last, and the right hon. Gentleman knows my views. They are also the views of the Government.

Mr. Money

Would my right hon. Friend not agree that, far from being a subject for censure, it is a proud achievement by our right hon. and noble Friend to have spent more money on housing the arts and more on the performing arts than any previous Government?

The Prime Minister

I agree with my hon. Friend. It is a much wider approach than existed previously. I have always felt that in the last 20 years a great deal has been done for the art galleries and for music but that the country has not met its obligations towards the museums. My right hon. Friend is now concentrating on the question of enabling museums to have better buildings and better resources for display.