HC Deb 10 June 1976 vol 912 cc1662-5
Q1. Mr. Ashley

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

The Prime Minister (Mr. James Callaghan)

One, Sir.

Mr. Ashley

When my right hon. Friend next makes a broadcast, will he care to refer to the responsible attitude of the trade unions which are now planning for a return to free collective bargaining, because, as David Basnett said yesterday, they want to avoid an atomic explosion of wages? Will he agree that that creative attitude is in direct contrast with the attitude of those in management who are now busily devoting their time and energy to schemes designed to evade taxation?

The Prime Minister

We shall have considerable problems next year when we discuss the ending of the agreement on pay which will expire in July 1977. It is generally recognised by trade unions and by the Government that there will have to be consultation about these matters, and we shall be ready to enter upon that as soon as seems appropriate.

There may be a fringe element of management concerned with tax evasion. I want to emphasise, as I did yesterday, that we need the skill and good will of management if we are to solve some of the problems which lie ahead of us. I am satisfied that the great majority of management is helping in that direction.

Mrs. Thatcher

When he next makes a ministerial broadcast will the Prime Minister explain what he proposes to do with the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill? Does he propose to redeem the broken pledge on the last vote on that Bill by dropping the measure?

The Prime Minister

I shall of course be very happy to discuss the Shipbuilding Bill on television or in any other forum if it seems appropriate. I must resist the right hon. Lady's view about the way in which the vote was conducted. I do not wish to exacerbate or add to the difficulties which exist in the House, but I am bound to say that some of the accounts which have appeared do not tally with my version or my understanding of what took place, and it is at least as likely that I am right as that the Opposition Chief Whip is right.

Mrs. Hayman

Will my right hon.

Friend take the opportunity of his next television broadcast to explain the value of the child benefit scheme to families in this country rather than allowing the Cabinet to retreat in panic from the most important social measure for families that we have?

The Prime Minister

The child benefit scheme has not been abandoned, but it has been partly implemented by giving £1 for the first child. It cannot be fully implemented, as I stated yesterday in the course of ray long speech which my hon. Friend found sufficiently convincing to vote for.

Mrs. Thatcher

Having seen the Prime Minister before on this matter, may I just say to him that there is no question but that there was a broken pledge with a named pair—a pledge which was honoured in the first Division and not in the second? I would ask the right hon. Gentleman whether as Prime Minister, he proposes to keep his ill-gotten gain at any price.

The Prime Minister

I do not agree with the right hon. Lady. It is not the case, as we understand the situation, that there was a broken pledge. On the evening I saw the right hon. Lady, when I had returned from Scotland and saw her within half an hour, I had not acquainted myself with the full facts, because I was anxious to see her quickly. Having acquainted myself with the full facts, I am afraid that I cannot accept her version of the matter. [Interruption.] The Chief Whip would probably like to say a lot about it, but what should restrain both sides of the House is the fact that we have to work together if parliamentary democracy is to continue.

I do not think that it would help to have a public version of all that went on. I would prefer, if possible, to see the usual channels restored in other ways. After all, there will be an occasion in the decades to come when the Opposition will be in Government. [HON. MEMBERS: "Never."] Well, some time. I should like to persuade the right hon. Lady that it is not our view that a pledge was broken on this occasion.

Mrs. Thatcher

indicated dissent.

The Prime Minister

If I cannot persuade the right hon. Lady, I am afraid that the issue must rest there for the time being.

Mr. Heffer

When my right hon. Friend next makes a ministerial broadcast, will he explain to the nation why on every occasion that the Conservative Party has no policy to offer the nation it resorts to smears and slanders such as equating the Labour Party with either the Gestapo or East European countries? Is it not time that the nation was informed by a broadcast of what social democracy really means and how we are the greatest defenders of our democratic rights and liberties?

The Prime Minister

I listened to that part of the right hon. Lady's speech yesterday, but I do not think that the House took it very seriously. I am not at all sure that I should want to spend time on a broadcast on this matter. I am not aware that in the Iron Curtain countries to which the right hon. Lady referred there is a free Press with the kind of criticism of the Government that we see here every day. I am not aware that people can move freely about between their jobs nor—and this is the ultimate sanction which the right hon. Lady herself may be able to secure support for some time—are they free, as are the people of this country, to change their Government. If she really believes that we resemble an Iron Curtain country, all I can say is that that kind of exaggeration will be treated with derision.

Mr. Montgomery

When the Prime Minister next makes a ministerial broadcast, will he tell the British people that the Government will not accept the view being put forward by trade unions—that we should have non-elected local councillors? Will he reaffirm his belief again and state categorically, that all local councillors must be elected through the ballot box?

The Prime Minister

I have not studied that particular matter but, as the hon. Gentleman formulates it, I would accept what he says.

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