HC Deb 23 December 1976 vol 923 cc902-6
Q1. Mr. Hannam

asked the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 23rd December.

Q2. Mr. Canavan

asked the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for 23rd December.

Q3. Mr. Neubert

asked the Prime Minister whether he will list his official engagements for 23rd December 1976.

The Prime Minister (Mr. James Callaghan)

My official engagements today comprise answering these Questions and certain meetings with ministerial colleagues and with you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Hannam

Will the Prime Minister accept our best wishes for a happy and peaceful Christmas, and also take the opportunity today of giving the British people some good cheer by announcing that in view of the disastrous and deteriorating record of his Government and the damaging legislation which has forced the resignation of one of his Cabinet colleagues, he will announce a General Election early in the new year?

The Prime Minister

In the same spirit, may I respond to the hon. Gentleman and, indeed, go a little further, and say that the disinterested work that lie does for the disabled is recognised in many quarters?

As for giving some good cheer, it has not been my practice to try to falsify the position. I suppose that during these last nine months I have given a lot of bad cheer, but, I hope, a lot of realistic indicators to the House.

But I do not think that we should depart for Christmas altogether assuming that everything is black. There is a break in the clouds—for example, the situation in the oil industry. I understand that there have been 12 new discoveries in 1976 in the North Sea, that seven of the 14 commercial fields are on stream, that we are pumping oil at the rate of 400 barrels a day, or 20 million tons a year, and that next year it is expected that we shall reach the target of between 35 million and 45 million tons. This afternoon, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy will be signing participation agreements with both Shell and Esso that will benefit the British people.

In addition, manufacturing industry investment trends are up——

Sir J. Langford-Holt

Too long.

The Prime Minister

It may be too long for the hon. Gentleman, but it is not too long for the British people to hear a little good news—and, as hon. Members will be aware, the CBI survey shows that the trends in terms of orders for exports in manufacturing industry and our domestic production are up.

Whilst we look at the bad news, let us remember the rifts in the clouds—[Interruption]—and the Opposition—and in these circumstances let the whole House go forward steadfastly in 1977, putting thoughts of elections behind it, to the improved situation of 1978.

Mr. Canavan

Will my right hon. Friend have a word with the Chairman of the Post Office Corporation about alleged delays in the deliveries of Christmas mail? Although most Post Office employees are working very hard, is it not intolerable that the recruitment of extra staff should be severely limited, especially when we have 1½ million unemployed and the Post Office is expected to make a profit of about £400 million this year? Finally, may I thank my right hon. Friend for his Christmas card, which the Post Office has managed to deliver in good time? May I wish him and Audrey a very happy Christmas?

The Prime Minister

I thank my hon. Friend for his good will. If things go on like this, I shall not be frightened of coming to the House, as I normally am. I was getting a little worried about the delivery of my Christmas cards and asked someone to be in touch with the Post Office this morning. I am told that all the packages and all the Christmas cards posted by the last dates announced will be delivered by Christmas Day, so I hope that those who have not yet received my Christmas card will get it before long.

As to the financial situation of the Post Office, it is quite true, as my hon. Friend says, that it has made a substantial profit this year. I was very pleased when the Post Office announced yesterday its intention to freeze all its telecommunication charges, including telephone charges, until 31st March 1978. That will mean a period of two and a half years altogether since the last increase.

Mr. Neubert

Will the Prime Minister set aside half an hour in order to study the resignation speech of his right hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Prentice)? Will the Prime Minister study in particular the passage in which his right hon. Friend said that the choice of the recent economic measures was designed to avoid a situation in which the Government had to rely on Labour Members to carry through a Labour Government's legislation?

Does the Prime Minister agree that a Government who cannot command the support of their own party in the carrying of measures fundamental to the nation's welfare have lost all moral justification for continuing in office?

The Prime Minister

I do not need look to the hon. Gentleman for justifications of morality. When the Government cannot command the support of their followers they will not be the Government. That is quite clear. I have made that clear consistently throughout the whole period. The Opposition have got to beat us first. They have not done that yet, and it will be a long time before they do.

As to the views of hon. Members, I shall study all these speeches, including that of the right hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker), which contains his account of his differences with the Conservative Front Bench. I shall see whether I can do anything to promote some healing of the split between those two views.

Mr. Bidwell

I understand that the Prime Minister has no official engagements on 25th December and for several days to come but, casting his mind into the future, does he not agree that the return of a Tory Government is too horrific to contemplate, and that the standing of our movement will depend upon our ability to fight the menace of unemployment? Does my right hon. Friend agree that it will be precisely on that basis that we shall sustain the unity of our movement?

The Prime Minister

Unemployment is of very great concern to the Government and, I hope, to everybody in this country. I cannot promise much consolation on this aspect, and never have done—and this applies to 1977. That is why I have asked that every effort should be made by all our representatives at international organisations to try to achieve an international consensus on how world trade can be improved during next year. The Government intend to stand fast by their policy of inducing healthy growth through getting greater export orders. That demands a high level of world trade. That is why we are focusing our attention on this matter.

Mr. Whitelaw

Although everyone, of course, should welcome good news for the sake of the nation as a whole, will the Prime Minister, in giving his side of the good cheer—I do not grudge him that, and certainly add my good will—reflect on the fact that because his Government failed to take earlier and firmer action on the economic front he is today presiding over the highest Christmas unemployment figure since the war?

The Prime Minister

It is true that the figure of unemployment is, sadly, higher than at any time for many years, but the right hon. Gentleman, even in the spirit of good will, cannot escape his share of responsibility. [Interruption.] Let me try to elucidate this for the benefit of Conservative Members who do not appear to understand these matters.

In November 1973, the increase in money supply of this country stood at a figure of 28.9 per cent.—a disgracefully high figure. The effect of this was working through the economy for the first 18 months at least after the Labour Government took office, or indeed longer. To indicate the contrast, I point out that in November 1976 the figure was 13.7 per cent. I do not mind being told that that is too high—perhaps it is—but it does not lie in the mouths of Conservative Members to say that to me.

Mr. David Steel

Returning to thoughts of good will, will the Prime Minister reflect on the wisdom or unwisdom of the strange proposal we had from the broadcasting authorities that party political broadcasts should not be transmitted during the Christmas period? The one that I propose to make is apparently to be the last. With this apparent abundance of good things to tell the country, does not the Prime Minister feel that the New Year would not be a bad time at which to do it?

The Prime Minister

If I can help by writing the hon. Gentleman's script for him I shall be very happy for him to deliver it on New Year's Eve. But I have never believed in having broadcasting vans outside football matches on a Saturday afternoon, and I very much doubt whether people are anxious to listen to political messages on New Year's Eve or Christmas Day.

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