HC Deb 08 April 1976 vol 909 cc632-4
2. Mr. Hoyle

asked the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for 8th April.

The Prime Minister

I held meetings with my ministerial colleagues and others during the course of the day. This evening I shall be giving a dinner at 10 Downing Street in honour of the Shahbanou of Iran.

Mr. Hoyle

According to Press speculation, my right hon. Friend has been busy in other directions. However, I ask him to consider the fact that many of us on the Government side of the House believe that the Budget of our right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer lacked direction in one respect. There was a lack of protection for vital sectors of British industry in relation to the volume of imports coming into Britain. Will my right hon. Friend consider introducing import controls for key sectors of industry, such as textiles, footwear and cars, and even, now, it appears, the shipbuilding industry——

Mr. Speaker

Order. There will be nothing left off the list.

The Prime Minister

I answered questions about generalised import controls on Tuesday. As my right hon. Friend the Chancellor made clear in his Budget Statement, it is not the Government's view that a prescription of general and prolonged import controls, with all that that would mean in terms of import retaliation, offers any solution to our problems or any permanent increase in employment. As I said on Tuesday, we shall certainly study these matters. In certain cases, as my hon. Friend knows, we have announced several controls in recent months. We shall remain alert for other cases where they are appropriate. However, we must have regard for the balance of international trade in this matter and for those of our people working in the export trades as well as those working in trades that are attacked by imports.

Mr. Grylls

Will the Prime Minister take time today to remind the Chancellor of the Exchequer that good government means governing on behalf of all the people, and that crucial as it is to have the TUC's support, it is also important to have the support of the broadest possible cross-section of the whole of the British people for the counter-inflation policy?

The Prime Minister

I think that the Budget showed quite clearly that my right hon. Friend takes that view. I am not quite sure what the Opposition's view is about these discussions with the TUC. Perhaps we shall get it a little clearer as between what the right hon. Lady said and what the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw) said on television last night. Although this is a serious problem, I cannot think that a circumstance in which the House of Commons would itself ultimately decide what are to be the levels of reliefs, and in which it will pass or reject the Finance Bill, can be construed as a constitutional outrage.

Mr. Lipton

Reverting to my right hon. Friend's original reply, may I ask him whether he is aware that he dealt rather shortly with the dinner that he is giving tonight? Who is being invited?

The Prime Minister

I have rarely heard a more delicate way of inviting oneself to dinner. I am afraid that the guest list for tonight is complete, but I note my hon. Friend's point for later consideration.

Mr. Boscawen

Before the Prime Minister has his dinner tonight with his colleagues, will he make himself aware of the solemn commitments that his colleagues have given, time and again, to raise pensions to reflect the rise in prices or in earnings, whichever is the more favourable to them, on a historic basis, on the ground that it was the fairest method? Will he confirm that changing to a forward basis has breached the spirit of the Social Security Act 1975? Will he confirm that by breaching those commitments he is depriving the elderly, the disabled and long-term sick of about one- third of the benefits of the commitments that were made earlier——

Mr. Speaker

Order. That is enough for the rest of the time.

The Prime Minister

The House will have the opportunity of debating the pensions proposals later, but it is my understanding that the increases will more than match any increases in earnings that are likely to take place this year, and will more than match the increase in the cost of living that is likely to take place this year. That being so, the present Government have, not for the first time—and not for the last time—increased the real value of pensions to the elderly. I hope that that is something that we shall continue to do.