HC Deb 08 April 1976 vol 909 cc629-32
Q1. Mr. Peter Morrison

asked the Prime Minister when he next plans to make a ministerial broadcast.

Q9. Mr. Tebbit

asked the Prime Minister when he next expects to make a ministerial broadcast.

The Prime Minister (Mr. James Callaghan)

I refer the hon. Members to the reply that I gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, East (Mr. Lamond) on 6th April.

Mr. Morrison

Will the Prime Minister make immediate arrangements for a further broadcast so that he can explain to the nation how he reconciles his own statement on Monday night, that borrowing cannot go on for ever, with his Chancellor's statement just 24 hours later, that the nation's debt this year will be £12,000 million?

The Prime Minister

On the whole I think that one ministerial broadcast in a week is probably enough. The hon. Member might think that it was more than enough, although it seemed to meet with a certain amount of satisfaction. As for the borrowing requirement, of course it is true that we cannot go on borrowing indefinitely. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor made it clear, however, that in present circumstances the borrowing requirement, taken against the gross national product, has diminished and that he is capable of financing it this year out of the existing measures and by means of monetary control. In those circumstances the hon. Gentleman and others who think like him should declare whether they want us to cut down our borrowing requirement in order to increase unemployment still further.

Mr. Ioan Evans

If my right hon. Friend makes another ministerial broadcast, will he develop the theme of the need for greater equality, because that would have the by-product of a broadcast by the Leader of the Opposition, in which she could develop her theme of wanting greater inequality and getting back to the "Upstairs, Downstairs" society of the Tories?

The Prime Minister

There is no doubt that the concept of equality is extremely important. As our population changes, and with the enlargement of its freedoms in such matters as education, security in old age and decent housing, equality becomes more and more important. It is one of the modern concepts to which I believe society will become accustomed and which will promote greater social cohesion.

Mr. Tebbit

Before the Prime Minister makes another broadcast, would it not be a good idea if he got his facts right? Did he not just say that the borrowing requirement for the year will go down in relation to GNP? Does he not mean that it is intended to go down in relation to what the Chancellor thinks the GNP may be? The Chancellor has never been right yet.

The Prime Minister

I would accept a correction that was formulated to mean that the borrowing requirement that the hon. Gentleman hopes will take place will represent a lower proportion of GNP than is likely to happen. If he used that formula I would accept it. That only goes to show how little care he takes in presenting these kinds of estimates.

Mrs. Thatcher

Does the Prime Minister recollect that in his broadcast on Monday he spoke about rooting out injustice and cherishing individual freedoms? Is he therefore prepared to stand up for the right of an individual to keep his or her job even though he declines on grounds of conscience to join a union in a closed shop?

The Prime Minister

This argument has gone on for a long time, and I have held the same views for 40 years. They are that if those who go into an industry know that they are joining a closed shop, they know exactly the conditions under which they are joining. However, as regards the question of freedom generally, when she spoke in her reply to the Budget Statement I thought that the right hon. Lady was getting a little close to almost condoning the strikes that were taking place in a vital industry. I hope that she will deny that that is so.

Mrs. Thatcher

Is the Prime Minister aware that I tested what he said by reference to a specific case? His answer is "No". Is he aware that that leaves what he said in his broadcast with a very hollow ring?

The Prime Minister

I am interested that the right hon. Lady should take that view, because it seemed to me that when she made her reply she was agreeing with all I had said. I thought it very wise of hen to do so, though I wondered why she wasted a ministerial broadcast on it in order to reply. The freedom in which she seems to be most interested is the one that she discussed the other day—the freedom to be unequal. When the right hon. Lady has been Leader of the Opposition longer—and she will be that for a very long time—she will appreciate that freedom has a much wider definition.