HC Deb 27 November 1975 vol 901 cc1038-43
Q2. Mr. Graham

asked the Prime Minister when he next plans to meet the TUC.

Q5. Mr. Ashley

asked the Prime Minister when he next proposes to meet the TUC and the CBI.

Q8. Mr. Atkinson

asked the Prime Minister when he next expects to meet the TUC.

The Prime Minister

I refer my hon. Friends to the reply which I gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) on 25th November, Sir.

Mr. Graham

When my right hon. Friend next meets the TUC will he convey to that body the warm appreciation of this House of the determined and successful efforts of the TUC in making its contribution to the counter-inflation policy?

Is my right hon. Friend satisfied that the measures taken by the Government, particularly in conection with price control, are proving equally effective?

The Prime Minister

I shall certainly convey to the TUC what my hon. Friend has said. I am sure that the TUC has earned the approbration of the whole House for its courage and for the way in which it has contributed to an agreed—not statutory, but agreed—policy on inflation, which now carries the full support of the whole country.

Mr. Tebbit


The Prime Minister

Hon. Members may put it to the test. Nobody knows where the Conservatives stand. They sat on their hands when the vote was taken. Half of them wanted a statutory policy and half of them did not know what they wanted. [Interruption.] I was dealing with a serious question from a serious Member of this House.

On the question of price control, I refer my hon. Friend to what was said in the Gracious Speech, approved by this House the other evening, and what was said by my right hon. Friends in the debate on Tuesday.

Sir David Renton

When the Prime Minister next meets the TUC, will he ask it to accept as a principle that men should have the right not to strike as well as the right to strike?

Mr. Flannery

They also have the right to work.

Sir David Renton

Will the right hon. Gentleman ask the TUC to ensure that its constituent unions do not victimise or penalise those men who prefer to work rather than strike?

The Prime Minister

I agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman's concern and, with what I think may lie behind his question. The TUC has no power of direction over individual unions. There is industrial democracy as well as political democracy in this country. The Conservative method of dealing with this matter proved to be a national disaster. I believe the right hon. and learned Gentleman supported it. Nevertheless, he will be pleased to see a significant reduction in man-days lost through stoppages since the present Government came into power.

Mr. Ashley

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Government's £6 pay policy could be destroyed if any group of people, whether dentists, dustmen or doctors, were to breach that policy? [An HON. MEMBER: "Or the miners."] Will my right hon. Friend confirm that it is the policy not simply of one Minister but of the whole Government, and that any people who challenge the £6-a-week policy are challenging the Government?

The Prime Minister

Yes, I agree with my hon. Friend. It is, in fact, the policy of the whole Government. Indeed, it is the policy of the House of Commons. However the votes may have been cast, it is the policy of the House. I believe that it is the policy of the whole country. We have made it clear that however strong the case, there cannot be derogations from this. The word "miners" has been thrown across the Floor of the House. I remind hon. Members that the miners' conference, last July, in Scarborough, accepted this policy. The miners had a pit-head ballot of individual votes which showed a three-to-two majority in favour of this policy. This is now the policy of their executive. I might say that they showed much more courage in this matter than the Opposition have. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Oh, yes; they declared their position. On the other hand, I think it is only fair to compliment the official Opposition spokesman in the debate on the health service, who said that the Opposition believe that it is right that the counter-inflationary policy should be observed.

Mrs. Thatcher

Does the Prime Minister accept that, after the difficult economic circumstances that face us, what our people are most concerned about is the power wielded by a minority of Left-Wing extremists? When he next meets the TUC, therefore, will he tell it that he and the majority of his colleagues will do all in their power to assist the commonsense majority to prevail, whether by means of postal ballots or such other methods as he may suggest? If he does so, he may be assured of our support.

The Prime Minister

I am grateful to the right hon. Lady. I know that she would not wish her reference to Left-Wing militants to be taken as referring to the junior hospital doctors. They are currently challenging a wage policy which was accepted by this House and, indeed, by the country. [Interruption.] They are challenging, and the Government and Opposition are resisting the challenge. [Interruption.] I have plenty of time to answer. I cannot answer while an hon. Member opposite who is acting as a PPS is out of control. If hon. Members will allow me to try to remember the original question, I shall endeavour to answer it. I was saying that I welcomed the fact that in this House, on the question of the Health Service—[An HON. MEMBER:"Speak up."] We have all said that the policy must be carried through.

The right hon. Lady referred to the danger from Left-Wing militants. I have made clear my anxiety about the threat to our community from Left-Wing and Right-Wing militants, with only one group of whom the right hon. Lady tends to associate herself—but only in the United States, and not in this country. [Interruption.] Hon. Members may not like it. I have been asked a long question and hon. Members are going to get the answer in the end. [HON. MEMBERS: "Get on with it."] Hon. Members opposite are shouting. They do not want to hear the answer.

On the subject of postal ballots, my right hon. Friends and I have welcomed the success of the AUEW ballot, and there are others. I am still not persuaded that it is right to force postal ballots, but the move towards them is something that I very much welcome.

Mr. Thorpe

Since the Prime Minister will no doubt wish to discuss current political issues with the TUC, will he ascertain for himself that the votes cast last Tuesday were not on devolution but were on the economy and the dock labour scheme? He may have been thinking of the business in another place. If the right hon. Gentleman is to discuss Government taxation policy with the TUC, will he bear in mind that the powers of taxation to be given to the Scottish Assembly are rather less than those which Lloyd George gave in this House. 50 years ago, to Ireland?

The Prime Minister

With regard to the parallel with the Irish situation, we are deeply concerned with the Constitution and other problems in Ireland. When I referred to the votes on Tuesday, I was not speaking of devolution. I was not sure which was the more pathetic—seeing the Conservatives following the Liberals into the dock Lobby or seeing the Liberals following into the Lobby on economic questions a party which has no policy on any single matter affecting economic policy.

Mr. Atkinson

Is it not the case that Selsdon woman makes Selsdon man look like a raving anarchist? My right hon. Friend is shortly to travel to Italy. Will he agree to meet trade union leaders there and discuss the rôle of British investment in the motor industry in that country? If we are posing to multinational companies who invest in Great Britain the argument that we should share their capital resources, should not Italian workers who are concerned about Innocenti and Leyland have a share in the British capital that the Government are to invest in Leyland? Is my right hon. Friend prepared to discuss this very important question with Italian trade union leaders?

The Prime Minister

It would be entirely inappropriate, not to say indelicate, for me to talk about the relationship between Selsdon man and Selsdon woman, so I shall resist the temptation. On the serious part of my right hon. Friend's question, I recognise that he is taking an internationalist approach, in the sense that he says that what is good for our resistance to certain Chrysler proposals is good for Innocenti—

Mr. Gorst

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the fact that the Prime Minister is now floundering aimlessly, would it not be in order to go on with the Business Statement? It is after 3.30.

The Prime Minister

Hon. Members opposite have problems in these matters. I represent a party and a Government with a policy, against people who have no policy. This is a serious and international question that I am answering, but I cannot accept that the circumstances are the same here and in Italy. My visit to Rome is for the summit meeting of the Council of Europe, and any discussions with the Italian Prime Minister will be on the fringe of that conference. If he wishes to raise the question of Innocenti, I shall be pleased to discuss it with him, as President Ford was pleased to discuss the Chrysler question with me at Rambouillet.

Mr. Lawson

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. This is the second time this week that the Prime Minister has not even succeeded in reaching Question No. Q3 on the Order Paper. Will you tell him to stop making such long-winded, repetitious and irrelevant answers?

Mr. Speaker

Will the hon. Member please repeat his point? I did not hear it.

Mr. Lawson

I gladly repeat it. In view of the fact that this is the second time this week that the Prime Minister has not even succeeded in reaching Question No. Q3 on the Order Paper, will you tell him to stop making such long-winded, repetitious and irrelevant answers?

Mr. Wellbeloved

In giving consideration to that point of order, Mr. Speaker, will you take into account the fact that the Prime Minister had to suffer today the combined inane antics of the Opposition, caused by their lack of policies, and the fact that hon. Members on the Government side would very much like to hear my right hon. Friend giving his answers?

Mr. Speaker

That is nowhere near a point of order. This is a serious matter for the House. I have looked very carefully at the record for last Tuesday and hon. Members will see there that the Prime Minister answered 10 different questions. We have a system, which I do not believe any of us finds satisfactory, of having pegs on which one can hang any question to the Prime Minister. The Question reached on the Order Paper is no test of how many are in fact answered. It is not very satisfactory, but it is how we go along.