HC Deb 27 July 1976 vol 916 cc244-8
Q1. Mr. MacGregor

asked the Prime Minister whether he intends to make a ministerial broadcast on his Government's economic policy.

Q3. Mr. Ashley

asked the Prime Minister how many ministerial broadcasts he has made since he took office.

Q5. Mr. Michael Latham

asked the Prime Minister whether he is now able to announce the date for his next ministerial broadcast.

Q10. Mr. Stott

asked the Prime Minister when he next plans to make a ministerial broadcast.

The Prime Minister (Mr. James Callaghan)

I have made one ministerial broadcast and will make another at an appropriate time.

Mr. MacGregor

When he does so, and bearing in mind the importance of local authority expenditure in relation to the Government's economic policy, will the right hon. Gentleman make it clear that in relation to possible cutbacks in local authority grants next year he will not allow the Secretary of State for the Environment to pursue a policy of hitting prudent local authorities instead of spendthrift authorities, which include many Labour-controlled ones—for example, Haringey? Would it not be wholly unfair that the prudent should suffer for the sins and actions of the spendthrift?

The Prime Minister

I shall bear in mind the hon. Gentleman's suggestion for a broadcast, but I am not sure that that complicated subject will be best disposed of in the course of such a broadcast. There is a problem here, in that the Government have control, through loan sanction, over capital expenditure but not over local authority current expenditure. The word "spendthrift" is hardly the correct one to apply, because in many cases the local authorities concerned are meeting desirable and necessary social needs. However, it is clear that if some local authorities attempt to keep within the Government's recommended limits and others do not, a general block grant will bear unfairly on those who keep within the limits. That is the real problem that we should consider. Between now and next April my right hon. Friend will be able to have discussions about remedying it.

Mr. Ashley

In his next broadcast, will my right hon. Friend take time off from refuting the economic nonsense talked by Opposition Members and by some of my hon. Friends and refer to the plight of one of the most underprivileged groups in Britain, namely, the single-parent families? Does he realise that there are no fewer than nine Ministers grappling with the 230 recommendations of the Finer Report, and that they are not doing very well at it? In fact, I believe that they are butchering the report, and that my right hon. Friend's personal intervention is required so as to get the nine Ministers to undertake collective action to try to help single-parent families.

The Prime Minister

I am obliged to my hon. Friend. I have not personally looked at this matter, but I undertake to do so in the long weeks of the recess that lie ahead, when I shall have a chance to reflect on more constructive aspects of Government policy than we hear from Opposition Members.

Mr. Latham

Has not the existing scheme, under which building societies are supposed to make up the Government cut-back in local authority mortgages, proved a complete farce? Why, therefore, are the Government doing it all over again? Why does not the Prime Minister make a broadcast to tell the simple truth, which is that the Government have cut the housing programme?

The Prime Minister

The Secretary of State for the Environment and the building societies had a meeting last week and, I believe, issued a joint statement on the way in which they will try to help would-be house owners. As I read the statement, it seemed to me to be very satisfactory, and I hope that the building societies will carry it out.

Mr. Bidwell

Does my right hon. Friend agree that for supporters of the Labour movement the real test of the economic management of Britain is whether the Government can get down the present rate of unemployment and, if necessary, engage in greater public expenditure to tackle it, as capitalism and non-Socialist measures certainly cannot?

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend is right in saying that we regard the present level of unemployment as too high. I hope that before the House rises my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment will be able to bring forward further measures for tackling unemployment, so as to help the situation.

Mr. David Steel

Will the Prime Minisster explain, in a broadcast or by some other means, why the increased payroll tax will not be regionally varied to take account of the different unemployment position in different parts of the country?

The Prime Minister

No, Sir, I do not think that I shall be able to explain that in a ministerial broadcast. The Cabinet took a decision that it should apply nationally.

Mrs. Thatcher

As the Prime Minister's Government have just announced a payroll tax of £1,000 million, at a time of record unemployment, will the Prime Minister in his next ministerial broadcast tell the nation who it was who said that such a payroll tax would both intensify the depression and increase the growth of unemployment? Does he still agree with that view?

The Prime Minister

I rather suspect that that is a catch question. I might have said it myself some time ago.

Mrs. Thatcher

indicated dissent.

The Prime Minister

Thank heavens for that. I thought that one of my past misdeeds as Chancellor of the Exchequer was coming out. I shall wait with bated breath to hear who said it, and then I shall know what value to place upon it. The Chancellor put forward the proposal because he thought that it was the best way of meeting the objective that has been pressed upon us by the Opposition, namely—[Interruption.]—Hon. Members have not yet heard what the objective is—namely, to reduce the borrowing requirement, and this is one way of doing it.

Mrs. Thatcher

If I may put the Prime Minister out of his misery, the words were said by the right hon. Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson) when he was shadow Chancellor, shortly before the Prime Minister took over from him as shadow Chancellor, at a time when unemployment was only 321,000, under a Conservative Government. Now, unemployment is nearly 1½ million. Surely, when he imposes a payroll tax at that level the Prime Minister cannot escape the charge of his party being the natural party of unemployment?

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Lady is too young to be living in the past like this. It is all very well for me to reminisce, but it is not for the right hon. Lady to do so. [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."] That is only the hors d'oeuvre; we are coming to the meat. On the serious part of the supplementary question about the level of unemployment, the right hon. Lady has a real point of substance when she says that no Government should be proud of the level of unemployment in this country, a problem that is shared—I do not use this as an excuse, but it is a factor that should be taken into account—throughout the Western industrial world. We are struggling to overcome it, and I trust that we shall do so. But there are always conflicting objects and objectives of any policy. My aim and that of the Government is that we should endeavour, by means of the combined approach we are making with other Gov- ernments and by our own actions, to reduce unemployment to 3 per cent. by 1979—and I hope that we shall get general support for that policy.

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