HC Deb 06 April 1976 vol 909 cc227-31
Q2. Mr. Hannam

asked the Prime Minister if the public statement on economic policy and other matters, made in London on 17th March by the Secretary of State for Energy, represents the policy of Her Majesty's Government.

Q8. Mr. Tebbit

asked the Prime Minister if the public statement on proposed future Government policy made by the Secretary of State for Energy at a Press conference on 17th March represents Government policy.

The Prime Minister

The public statement made by my right hon. Friend makes it clear that he was giving his reasons for accepting nomination for the leadership of the Labour Party.

Mr. Hannam

As well as our congratulations, will the Prime Minister accept our sympathy on inheriting a shattering legacy of industrial decline? In drawing up his Cabinet, will he recognise the fearful damage being caused to international confidence by such proposals as import controls and further State intervention? Will he resist these proposals and govern now for the nation and not for the party?

The Prime Minister

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his opening comment. As for industrial decline in this country, the hon. Gentleman is partly right, provided that he does not make too much of a party point of it. He knows, as I do, that this industrial decline has been going on for 30 years, or perhaps much longer, and it is therefore a matter that needs to be reversed immediately if the country is once again to enjoy rising standards. I think that the Government's policies—especially in regard to such instruments as the National Enterprise Board—if they are properly used and are not destroyed in party ideology, can do a great deal, especially if coupled with the restoration of confidence, to ensure that the industrial decline is reversed. We must pay attention to this task.

The Government's policy on import controls is quite clear. It has not changed from what it has been so far. A country that lives by its exports—which must earn its living by them—must consider seriously before it introduces import controls. On the other hand, looking at this in a practical way, for industries that would otherwise be viable but are being destroyed in the short term, it is proper and right to save employment so that they may live to thrive again.

Mr. Mike Thomas

There are more than two sides to the argument on economic policy. In the formation of that policy and the running of companies it is about time that the consumer voice and the voice of the general public interest were given a far larger say. To that end, will my right hon. Friend see that the National Consumer Council is given a formal place in NEDC rather than its informal attendance, at present?

The Prime Minister

I am obliged for that suggestion. It is one that has escaped my attention during the last two years, but I undertake to have it looked into and to communicate with my hon. Friend.

Mr. Tebbit

Will the right hon. Gentleman now return to the Question on the Order Paper? Does he agree that it can be answered only by "Yes" or "No"? Does he agree that the answer is "No", and that he has in the Cabinet still, as far as we know, a member of his team who disagrees basically with every item of Government policy, and said so in the speech to which this Question refers?

The Prime Minister

I have studied what my right hon. Friend said, which is headed "Statement announcing candidature". Having read it, if there had not been a better candidate in the field, I might even have voted for him.

Mr. Heffer

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many of us who read that statement felt that it was an excellent one? On the question of import controls, does my right hon. Friend not agree that the points made by the TUC in its economic review bear looking at very carefully? The TUC is asking for import controls, and therefore, on the basis of the discussions which my right hon. Friend will enter into with the TUC, will he take another look at the matter, because this is one of the ways—as has been established by the Cambridge school of economists—actually to deal with our problems?

The Prime Minister

I would not be greatly persuaded by the Cambridge school of economists. I am not sure that my right hon. Friend would be, either. As for the TUC, that is a more serious matter, because it lives in the everyday world.

I take very seriously the fact that the trade union movement certainly feels that in a number of areas import controls would be valuable. We must examine this from the foundation, because it is important that we carry the trade unions with us in seeing where the true interests of the workers and (hose they represent lie. If their true interests lie in not having import controls, I know that the TUC would accept that, but I think it is our job to examine the facts and then to persuade them, and I shall certainly do that.

Mr. Rathbone

May I personally add my own congratulations to my constituent on his appointment as Prime Minister, and ask him whether he realises how widely the commitment to freedom which was expressed on television last night has been appreciated by many of his fellow constituents and by others throughout the country? May I further express the hope that this will guide him in his deliberations with whomever at whatever time?

The Prime Minister

I am much obliged to the hon. Gentleman. I think it is true that freedom is an extremely important issue—specially as one goes round the world and sees it being eroded in many places. Our own people—the people we represent—have had their freedoms enlarged in many ways in recent years. I can speak personally about that. In such matters as education there has been a genuine enlargement of freedom. Let no one forget that. I think there must be general consent throughout the House that, whatever view we take, the strongest society we can form is based on individual freedom and personal responsibility. If those two go together, no dictatorship in the world can overthrow them.

Mr. Whitehead

As Question No. Q3 cannot now be reached, will my right hon. Friend accept that we all know that any acknowledgment he makes today will not measure up to the unique one he made yesterday, and that he sets out now on his task as Prime Minister with the good wishes of the 316 minority groups in the Parliamentary Labour Party?

Concerning my right hon. Friend's speech on television, will he reiterate in the House now that the predominant theme of this Administration will be a commitment to social reform and equality, which are sadly lacking in this country?

The Prime Minister

The previous Administration under my right hon. Friend, from 1964 onwards, did a very great deal in these fields, and it will certainly be my task to try to carry on where my right hon. Friend left off.

Mr. Marten

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

Order. Would the hon. Gentleman prefer to ask the supplementary question?

Mr. Marten

Yes, Mr. Speaker. The supplementary question is really related to Question No. Q3, which, as I see—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman had better make his point of order quickly.

Mr. Marten

It is exactly the same point. The point really was to be about answering Question No. Q10, because at the end of Questions yesterday I raised with you, Mr. Speaker the question why we did not have an oral statement about the most important summit meeting that took place last week. I have since made my own inquiries—as I am sure you have, Mr. Speaker—and I find that there was a statement in a Written Answer. I raise the question because I think it is wrong that this should be a precedent. I hope that the Prime Minister—whom I congratulate on taking up his post—will expose himself at the Dispatch Box to questioning on the summit meeting.

The Prime Minister

Further to the point of order. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that in general it would be better to give an oral statement after a European Council meeting, and I undertake to do so.