HC Deb 22 July 1975 vol 896 cc289-91
Q2. Mr. Cartwright

asked the Prime Minister if he will pay an official visit to Durham.

The Prime Minister

I was at the Durham Miners' Gala on 19th July, Sir, and I have at present no plans for a further visit to the area.

Mr. Cartwright

Can my right hon. Friend say whether he has found, in Dur- ham or anywhere else, any appreciation of the attitude of the official Opposition, who claim that they want a more dramatic cut in the rate of inflation than that proposed by the Government while at the same time demanding cuts in housing and food subsidies, which would simply increase the cost of living of the ordinary worker and, therefore, make inflation still worse?

The Prime Minister

I found no support for the views of the Opposition whether from the Durham miners or the leaders of other coalfields who were present at the gala. I think that some of the miners felt it might have been a good idea if they had invited leaders of the Opposition to Durham. If they spent more time with mineworkers and less with monetarists, they would learn a great deal more about not only the muscle and backbone but also the heart of Britain.

Mr. Ridley

Even if the Prime Minister cannot visit Durham, can he find a way of telling the Durham miners why he had abandoned his commitment to free collective bargaining and done a U-turn in favour of statutory controls which he has opposed in the past few years?

The Prime Minister

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that we said in our manifesto that these matters should be dealt with in consultation with the trade union movement. That movement has now made a historic pronouncement which the previous Prime Minister spent many months trying to get. He was right to do so. We are fortifying with legislation, which is to be debated tomorrow, measures and protections required to make a reality of the voluntary proposals and policy of the TUC.

Mr. Mark Hughes

Will my right hon, Friend accept that my constituents and I are deeply touched by the solicitude of my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Cartwright) in asking my right hon. Friend to visit us? Will he, however, comment on the most notable speech of Mr. Lawrence Daly last Saturday from the platform at Durham?

The Prime Minister

It was indeed a notable speech. Mr. Daly made certain comments about Members' pay which might not be totally acceptable in all quarters of the House, but what he said about the decision of the NUM executive and the advice he was giving in respect of the coalfield ballot this year was extremely encouraging, coming as it did after the decision of the executive. I should like to hear some praise and support from the Opposition Front Bench for what Mr. Daly had the courage to say last Saturday.

Mr. Cyril Smith

If the Prime Minister finds it possible to go to Durham, he could do so by going through my constituency of Rochdale. If he did that, would he be prepared to tell the textile workers in my constituency when he proposes that the Government should make their statement on textiles? Is he aware that I have in my hand a telegram from the trade union movement in Rochdale certifying that the closure of another textile mill affecting 250 employees has been announced in Rochdale today? When are we to know the Government's policy on this matter?

The Prime Minister

The hon. Member is perfectly fair in what he says. If one went to Durham through the textile areas of Yorkshire and Lancashire I am sure that one would hear expressed the sense of urgency to which the hon. Member referred. My right hon. Friend has made clear that a statement will be made within the next few days.

Mrs. Thatcher

As the Prime Minister has returned to the point about the Government's policy on inflation, will he say something about the reserve powers? Is he saying that he will drop the reserve powers in the Bill if he cannot find a way of absolving the unions from the consequences of refusing to abide by a court's decision, or will he go ahead with them in any event?

The Prime Minister

We have not said that at all. The House will be debating these matters further, and I hope to catch your eye this afternoon, Mr. Speaker. The Bill which we have said we will hold in reserve and would introduce if the general strategy was imperilled would not involve the problem about which the right hon. Lady is rightly concerned. The question she has put raises issues which do not arise.