HC Deb 26 February 1976 vol 906 cc618-20

Q5. Mr. Michael Latham asked the Prime Minister if the interview given by the Chancellor of the Exchequer to the economics correspondent of The Guardian, published in the newspaper on 12th February 1976 on economic matters represents the policy of Her Majesty's Government.

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir.

Mr. Latham

Is it not clear from that interview that the only views which are likely to matter to the Chancellor of the Exchequer in forming the next stage of the incomes policy are those of the TUC? Why does he persist in such a one-sided and prejudiced attitude?

The Prime Minister

I have read the article carefully. The Government have decided, and were elected on the proposition, that agreement and consensus and not confrontation with industrial workers is the right way to proceed, and that has been proved by the full acceptance by the country of the counter-inflation policy. Although I have said that I have no plans for a ministerial broadcast, were I to give one I might like to answer the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question by pointing out that the last Tory ministerial broadcast informed the country of the inestimable advantages to the country of a three-day week. That is the difference between us.

Mr. Noble

Has my right hon. Friend seen the report in the Financial Times on Tuesday relating to investment in the regions? What justification have the Government for retaining development area status for Aberdeen, which is now booming, when the North-West is given no additional aids and has the worst record of public investment in the country?

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend will be aware of our scheduling of certain areas within the North-West during our period of office. The question of the de-scheduling of Aberdeen might be a matter of some controversy in the House, and I ask my hon. Friend to address his question to my right hon. Friends who have responsibility for regional matters.

Mr. Tim Renton

Will the Prime Minister explain why the Chancellor of the Exchequer is giving hints about tax cuts when it is clear from the White Paper on Public Expenditure that he will not be able to afford any tax cuts? Is the Chancellor acting like a "silly Billy"?

The Prime Minister

In reply to that pathetic supplementary question—obviously rehearsed all morning—I say to the hon. Gentleman in time-honoured terms that I cannot anticipate my right hon. Friend's Budget Statement. Many Opposition hon. and right, hon. Members have been asking for some time for different treatment of tax matters. My right hon. Friend on the day after the interview made a speech—to which I have referred in the House and which is in the Library—which deals with some of these questions. Naturally, none of us can anticipate his Budget Statement. It will be extremely difficult for my right hon. Friend if he listens to the advice of Opposition hon. and right hon. Members to increase public expenditure, as they advise him to do regularly every week.

Mr. Moonman

On a related theme, will the Prime Minister say when he expects to receive the report on the newspaper industry, in view of the distress which is being suffered by two or three newspapers at present?

The Prime Minister

The House knows that, following the Government's request to the Royal Commission to prepare an interim report on the economic position of newspapers, the two sides in the newspaper industry, including most of the principal unions, got together for the first time in history. I believe that they are in agreement and have produced a forward-looking document. That document is being urgently studied by the Royal Commission, which I understand hopes to report within a very short time. I cannot anticipate the report. I do not know what will be in it. But whatever report the Royal Commission makes will be for the Government and the House to study.

Mr. Henderson

May I revert to the Prime Minister's answer about Aberdeen? Is he aware that if there is any attempt to give way to an English backlash to the detriment of outer areas, there will be opposition in the House and outside?

The Prime Minister

There will be no giving way to ignorance whether from England, Scotland or anywhere else. While it is true that North Sea developments have had a significant effect on economic activities in certain parts of Scotland, there is anxiety about the rigs programme because of the timing.