HC Deb 13 January 1976 vol 903 cc200-3
3. Mr. Hurd

asked the Prime Minister whether he will list his public engagements during the recess.

The Prime Minister

It is not in accordance with previous practice to do so, Sir, but if the hon. Gentleman has a specific point on my official engagements during the recess I shall be glad to answer him.

Mr. Hurd

Yes, indeed I have, Sir. Does the Prime Minister recall, among those engagements, the radio broadcast that he made between Christmas and the New Year in which, once again, he threw away the unique opportunity that he has as Prime Minister to tell people the facts as they really are? Should he not have anticipated in that broadcast, for example, the Transport House document that we have just seen, and explained that his party's commitments to spend and to nationalise simply cannot be honoured without further increase in taxation that its own supporters would find intolerable?

The Prime Minister

The hon. Member may have seen the particular document to which he has referred. However, it did not arise during this broadcast when, as the hon. Gentleman will know, I was dealing with major national issues. On the question of any document emanating from Transport House, I do not know to which one the hon. Gentleman is particularly referring. I have read references to such documents only in the Press. Whether they have been issued I do not know. However, they do not represent Her Majesty's Government's policy. That is the duty of the Government, for which we are responsible to this House.

Mr. Heffer

During the Christmas Recess did my right hon. Friend have occasion to visit his own constituency on Merseyside and discuss with the people there the high level of unemployment, which is 10.6 per cent. for the whole of Merseyside? Did he consider the answers to the problem of unemployment? Will he announce to the House what further measures the Government intend to take to deal with the most important issue before us, namely, the fact that too many thousands of people are unnecessarily out of work?

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend will be aware that visits to one's constituency do not technically feature as public engagements. Of course, I have recently been to my constituency, as my hon Friend will know, and, of course, the unemployment question has been constantly discussed by my constituents and myself. We have also discussed certain recent cut-backs, for example, in the Post Office programme, and matters of that kind. The unemployment policy was debated fully in the House immediately before Christmas. I have nothing to add to what my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for Employment and the Chancellor said then, or what my right hon. Friend the Chancellor said yesterday in the House.

6. Mr. Stanley

asked the Prime Minister whether he will list his engagements during the recess.

The Prime Minister

I refer the hon. Member to the reply that I gave earlier today to the hon. Member for Mid-Oxon Mr. Hurd).

Mr. Stanley

Will the Prime Minister confirm from his recent discussion with trade union leaders that the Government have now reversed their policy towards the steel industry and are giving tacit approval to large-scale redundancies in the British Steel Corporation? Will he now be frank with the House and tell us what level of redundancies the Government are willing to see in the British Steel Corporation in 1976?

The Prime Minister

In fact, I have had no meetings with the trade unions during the recess. However, I did meet leading representatives of the TUC on the question of steel and transport while the House was still sitting in the last week before Christmas. We discussed fully the steel situation. Some of the statements and fears that were expressed were shown not to have been real. However, the Government said that they had made no decision on this matter and that the relevant trade unions in the steel industry should have discussions with the British Steel Corporation. Those discussions are now taking place.

Mr. Skinner

It would be interesting to know how many engagements some of the hon. Members who have asked questions have had during the recess. Be that as it may, will my right hon. Friend take some time, now that we are all back at work, to examine the activities of the Lifeboat Committee? Is he aware, for example, that his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer is unable to answer questions about how much is being lost, arising out of tax liabilities, by those participating in the Lifeboat Committee in their activities for arranging the rescue of the secondary banking system? Will he look into this matter and tell us how much is being lost to the Chancellor of the Exchequer arising out of these actions?

The Prime Minister

On the first part of my hon. Friend's question, there is no ministerial responsibility for engagements fulfilled during the recess or at any other time by right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite. I have enough troubles without having to be responsible for them.

On the second part of the question, the Lifeboat Committee, as my hon. Friend called it—the whole House knew what he had in mind—is doing extremely valuable work where there has been a loss or breakdown of confidence affecting a considerable number of banks in which the public have invested money and are entitled to such protection as can be worked out when there has, in some cases, been improvident investments in property and in other ways. The whole problem goes back to the lavish and extravagant creation of bank money by the Conservative Party when it was in government. They printed money in the most lavish way. They will have seen much tighter control over the money supply under this Government.

Mr. Prior

When the right hon. Gentleman visits his constituents, how will he explain that under a Conservative Government a figure of 1 million unemployed is unacceptable but under a Labour Government it can go to 1.2 million or even 1.5 million and still be all right?

The Prime Minister

Peering at the right hon. Gentleman through a rather large wig—I did not know that he had been demoted that much; he really should come up nearer the Dispatch Box—my answer to him is that, as he will know, industrial expansion had stopped before he went out of office. I think that the right hon. Gentleman was Secretary of State for Employment. [Interruption.] Was he not?

Mr. Whitelaw indicated dissent.

The Prime Minister

I am sorry. The right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw) was Secretary of State for Employment. The right hon. Gentleman, unlike some of his colleagues, has accepted collective responsibility for the actions that they took. At that time, as he knows, a world recession was developing. When we came into office, as the right hon. Gentleman also knows, had we listened to the Opposition's proposals for immediate cuts in public expenditure there would have been 2 million unemployed.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. We must get on.