HC Deb 06 April 1976 vol 909 cc223-7
Q1. Mr. Stott

asked the Prime Minister when he next plans to attend a meeting of NEDO.

Q9. Mr. Norman Lamont

asked the Prime Minister when he next intends to take the Chair at NEDC.

The Prime Minister (Mr. James Callaghan)

I would expect to take the chair at meetings of the National Economic Development Council from time to time, but I have no immediate plans to do so, Sir.

Mr. Stott

Is my right hon. Friend aware that it is a unique privilege to have been rather fortuitously selected to ask the new Prime Minister the first Question? May I offer my right hon. Friend my sincere congratulations and wish him well in his future endeavours? Is he further aware that if he transmits to the NEDO the policies that he enunciated on television last night, not only are they likely to meet with success but they would contrast markedly with the woeful lack of policies and the lamentable failure of the Conservative Party?

The Prime Minister

I am much obliged to my hon. Friend for what he had to say. No one is in any doubt about the difficult times that this country faces, but if we tackle them with determination, energy and optimism, I am certain that this country can come through—and that will demand from everyone an effort that is greater, perhaps, than that which we have made so far.

Mrs. Thatcher

Is the Prime Minister aware that whether or not he attends the next meeting of the NEDO, my right hon. and hon. Friends and I would like to offer him our very warm congratulations on becoming Prime Minister and our personal good wishes? We should be very grateful if he would also convey our good wishes to his family, who will take a special pleasure and pride in his achievement. I know that we shall have our political differences from time to time, but I hope that we shall always be able to debate them in a courteous and generous spirit.

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Lady disarms me, and that is a very dangerous thing to do. Speaking personally, I am looking forward to a honeymoon of about 10 days at the most, and then I rather fancy that there will be the well-known cries of "Bring back Harold" from the Opposition Benches.

Mr. Thorpe

May I, too, congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on both his election and his appointment, and assure him that if he sticks to the objectives that he indicated last night on television, he will be entitled to support going beyond his own party, or sometimes instead of his own party? Will he, at least in the flush of victory—being a magnanimous man—have some sympathy for the friend of the whole of this House—the Secretary of State for Employment, the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Foot) who was denied the use of the clear, decisive, well understood first-past-the-post system which we all favour—at least, with the exception of the Liberal Party—and which the Government particularly favour, and who would otherwise have been in Downing Street 10 days ago?

Finally, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman a question that is relevant to this Question? Does he agree that if the NEDO and the NEDC were able to get agreement on an economic policy which could stretch beyond the confines of one Parliament and one party, it would do more for investment and stability than any other single factor?

The Prime Minister

I am very grateful for support from wherever it comes, but I intend to rely upon the support of my own party in this House. As long as I command that support, I shall be ready to do what is necessary in the national interest.

As regards the position of my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Foot), he is so thoroughly objective in these matters that no matter what the personal consequences may be, he still sees all the advantages of the first-past-the-post procedure, and so I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman will be able to claim him as an ally on this matter.

I have not had the privilege of attending the meetings of NEDO and NEDC for about eight years, but when I did, I remember the considerable degree of objectivity in the undertakings that they gave. I would certainly hope that we could have—and the Government already have—a long-term economic policy which, if it can be stretched beyond the realms of this Parliament, however long this Parliament may continue—and it may well have a very long life before it—will be of benefit to the country if the policies can be carried on with general agreement.

Mr. Atkinson

During the honeymoon period to which my right hon. Friend referred will he give some thought to the statement which he made yesterday indicating his desire to meet the trade union leaders as soon as possible? Will he now give some indication about the policy he will pursue? Does he intend to meet the trade union leaders, negotiate an agreement with them and then come back to the House, putting that agreement before the House in the form of a policy? Or does he intend to reverse that procedure, getting agreement within the House of Commons and establishing a policy, and then trying to put it to the trade union leaders? Which way round does he intend to proceed?

The Prime Minister

It would be proper, I think, to proceed in the way that we have done so far, namely, that my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for Employment and Chancellor of the Exchequer would engage the trade unions in discussions on all matters that are appropriate, that they would act under the general guidance of the Cabinet as a whole and would secure the support of the parliamentary party. So far, that system seems to have worked very well.

Mr. Molyneaux

May I offer the Prime Minister the congratulations of the United Ulster Unionist Party? May I also express the hope that since the present campaign against the people of Northern Ireland and of the United Kingdom generally began while he was Home Secretary, so it may be brought to an end under his premiership?

The Prime Minister

I am grateful to the hon. Member, whose friendship I think I may say I have enjoyed for many years and whose services to the people of Northern Ireland I know. I can only echo that if this task is within the capacity of anyone to solve, it will certainly have my unswerving attention, because the people of Ireland have suffered too much for too long, in the interests of their cause, and this matter could be settled if men of good will—and there are some in all parties in the House, as well as in Northern Ireland—were allowed to get control of events and if the extremists were to realise that they cannot win what they are attempting by the methods they are employing.

Mr. Donald Stewart

May I convey to the right hon. Gentleman the good wishes of my hon. Friends and myself in his task? Since we cannot extend the honeymoon to 10 days, will he bear in mind, when Cabinet-making, that his Secretary of State for Scotland does not regard unemployment in Scotland as being disastrous at present? What does the right hon. Gentleman intend to do about that?

The Prime Minister

I shall keep everybody's name in mind in the process of Cabinet-making, but as long as the SNP stands for separation and not devolution I am afraid that I cannot consider members of that party for any of these posts. As for the serious question about unemployment, I regret that in Scotland there was a slight upward movement last month, contrary to the general trend, which appeared, admittedly on a short-term basis, to be downward. I trust that what the Government are doing in their economic policies will reverse any upward trend. This is a problem that must be tackled.

Mr. Speaker

We now go back to ordinary Questions. Mr. Hannam.