HC Deb 08 July 1976 vol 914 cc1598-601
Q2. Mr. Forman

asked the Prime Minister if he will make a statement on the agenda of the Western economic summit meeting in Puerto Rico.

The Prime Minister

I refer the hon. Member to the statement I made to the House on 29th June.

Mr. Forman

Is it not a fact that when the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues went to Puerto Rico for the summit they were given what amounted to a six months' stay of execution by their international counterparts? Is it not also a fact that, whatever may have been on the agenda of the Puerto Rico meeting, the dominant factor on the Government's agenda must be the need to bring forward planned cuts in public expenditure for 1977–78, and to do so soon enough, so that when the Chancellor has to go back to the IMF at some time before November he has domestic policies of which our international creditors can approve?

The Prime Minister

The first part of the hon. Gentleman's question is not a fact. On the second part, I note the almost masochistic desire of the Opposition to be flogged into having less public expenditure, as though this were something utterly desirable, when, by all accounts, and judging from questions put to me this afternoon, it has been shown that additional public expenditure would meet very desirable social needs. If the Government have to regulate the amount of public expenditure, the hon. Gentleman should not take a delight in that; he should help us to work in order to get more public expenditure in due course.

Mr. David Steel

In his statement—[Interruption.]—the Prime Minister summed up the summit in the two words "co-operation" and "inter-dependence". Since we all recognise how dependent we are on others to give credit, will he give the House and British industry a clear target date by which he hopes we shall return to single-digit inflation?

The Prime Minister

I think that the House will allow me to congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his election yesterday to the leadership of his party. I assure him that there will be very few occasions when he will receive cheers from all parties in the House at the same time, so he had better make the most of it this afternoon. On behalf of all of us, I wish him at least an enjoyable tenure of office.

The original hope and intention of the Government was that we should be down to single-figure inflation by the end of this year. The depreciation of sterling and the increased price of raw materials and commodities, one of which is partially but not wholly consequential upon the other, means that this must be postponed a little. I am sure that hon. Members will be delighted to know that I expect to see the inflation rate going down again this month—I would have expected some applause for that. My pause there was for applause. I expect to see the rate going steadily down. We shall, on present commitments—[Interruption.] It is too hot for me to shout. Hon. Gentleman opposite would do better to keep quiet. They may be pleased to know that we would certainly expect to reach a single-digit inflation rate during the course of the next year.

Mrs. Thatcher

As the Prime Minister now has a breathing space in which to take the necessary economic measures, is he aware that on the Opposition side we were pleased with what he said yesterday about the need for greater profits and a profitable private enterprise sector? Is he further aware, however, that within a few hours of his meeting the Secretary of State for Energy was advocating further measures of nationalisation? Will the Prime Minister therefore repudiate the right hon. Gentleman, in view of his own new-found commitment to the free enterprise sector, by dropping both the Secretary of State and the nationalisation measures now before the House?

The Prime Minister

I assure the right hon. Lady that none of this was discussed at Puerto Rico. If I were to meet my colleagues again I am sure that they would take the view that was taken by the CBI representatives yesterday, that the Government's policies, taken as a whole, offer the best opportunity for this country to escape from the economic thraldom in which it has been held. The fact that the CBI and the TUC together were willing to make this joint settlement should be welcomed on all sides of the House.

As for my right hon. Friend's speech, I regret that I have not had an opportunity of reading it. I am sure, however, that it was full of his usual good sense.

Mrs. Thatcher

I was asking the Prime Minister not so much what he said but what he proposed to do in support of what he said. Is he aware that we can only conclude that when he is with the CBI he is content to appear in capitalist clothes, but that when it comes to taking action in the House of Commons he is only too willing to be pushed into more Marxist measures?

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Lady does not seem yet to have understood that this was not a meeting with the CBI; it was a meeting of the NEDC, and a joint conclusion was reached by all the parties there, which was why they all appeared at the Press conference—a pretty-well unprecedented move. As for my Marxist clothes, I am willing to fill in an application for membership of the Tribune Group, but I somehow think that it would not have me.

Mr. Heffer

They do not have to be Marxists.

Mr. Mike Thomas

Does my right hon. Friend accept that regardless of his Marxism, his neo-Marxism or his non-Marxism, he would have been greatly strengthened both in Puerto Rico and at his meeting with the NEDC yesterday had the Opposition Front Bench taken the view about pay policy which the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) advocated so eloquently yesterday?

The Prime Minister

It would be foolish to neglect the good elements of Marxism, which have been absorbed into a great deal of political thinking and which, oddly enough, permeate all parties. Personally, I have not yet been utterly convinced by the doctrine as a whole. It is certainly true that some of my hon. Friends in the Tribune Group would qualify more as Left-wing Liberals than as Marxists.

My hon. Friend asked about the attitude of the Opposition. I think that a great deal of our industry has long since ceased to expect the Opposition to say anything that is either relevant or helpful to the cause of Britain's industrial recovery.

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