HC Deb 04 March 1976 vol 906 cc1530-3
Q1. Mr. Beith

asked the Prime Minister whether he has any plans to pay an official visit to Luxembourg.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Wilson)

I shall be visiting Luxembourg on 1st and 2nd April for the next meeting of the European Council, Sir.

Mr. Beith

Will the Prime Minister try during his visit to form some impression of the standing amongst our Common Market partners of our delegation to the European Parliament if we choose to elect that delegation by a system which could succeed in electing no Northern Ireland Catholics, no Welsh Conservatives, no Labour Members from Scotland, no Liberals and very few more Members from the Government party than Luxembourg itself has?

The Prime Minister

My colleagues at the European Council do not concern themselves very much with the troubles of the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) and his party. However, they take very seriously our statement about direct elections. We have published a Green Paper on this subject which will be debated in the House in the reasonably near future.

Mrs. Dunwoody

Does not my right hon. Friend feel that it might be a good idea if the House were given an opportunity through Mr. Speaker's Conference to consider the implications of direct elections before any formal decision was taken to go ahead with the debates in 1978?

The Prime Minister

The Government have made a statement on this matter and there was a reservation for Britain, although the Green Paper shows that we should like to make progress in this matter. However, all these suggestions can be raised in the forthcoming debate on the Green Paper.

Mr. Tebbit

Is the Prime Minister aware that when he is in Luxembourg he will be in the only country in the European Community which has had a higher rate of increase in unemployment than Great Britain over the past 12 months? As Luxembourg's unemployment is about 600, is the right hon. Gentleman further aware that he cannot take much comfort from that?

The Prime Minister

No, Sir. The hon. Member cannot take comfort from erroneous facts.

Q2. Mr. Adley

asked the Prime Minister if he will pay an official visit to Ferrybridge.

The Prime Minister

I have at present no plans to do so, Sir.

Mr. Adley

Will the Prime Minister please explain to the Ferrybridge Six why his Government's legislation denies them the personal freedom referred to on page 12 of his party's February 1974 manifesto? Is he aware that the coercion to which they are being subjected is a classic example of the reason why Lord George-Brown has resigned from the Labour Party?

The Prime Minister

I think that would be a very improbable explanation. However, with regard to Ferrybridge, I point out that the matters in question have been debated in another place and are sure to come back here, where they will be given further consideration. I think that the debate is the right place for making the type of points which the hon. Gentleman has made. However, since the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition has now, I understand, dropped a glove in the direction of the trade unions, no doubt when they pick it up she will be able to discuss the matter with them.

Dr. Edmund Marshall

May I assure my right hon. Friend that the affairs of these workers are receiving full attention? Is he aware that if he visits Ferrybridge, which is in my constituency, he will be assured of an affectionate welcome from the local people, who are hardworking and level-headed—as one would expect in Yorkshire—and who do not need any interference in their affairs from Conservative Members?

The Prime Minister

I very much agree with my hon. Friend's last few words. I have noticed how some Conservatives want to spend their time talking about any constituency but their own.

Mrs. Thatcher

As the Ferrybridge case refers to the rights of the individual where there is a closed shop, may I ask the Prime Minister about a closely-related case close to Ferrybridge? Does the Prime Minister approve of the action of the Barnsley branch of the NUJ, which is urging the local town council to refuse to give Press information to anyone who is not a member of the NUJ?

The Prime Minister

The answer is "No", and that is not the first time I have said it. There is no ministerial responsibility for the NUJ.

Mrs. Thatcher

The Prime Minister has ministerial responsibility to ensure the freedom of the Press and a free flow of information from a directly-elected body to the public. If the answer is as he says, will he ensure that there is a proper provision for the freedom of the Press in another place before that Bill comes back to us?

The Prime Minister

That is a totally different question as the right hon. Lady will find out when she starts to understand these things as a result of her long-awaited colloquy with the TUC. We are delighted to see that she is dropping everything she has ever voted for in this Parliament and the last. These are, however, important questions and I share her concern about them.

Q3. Mr. James Lamond

asked the Prime Minister if he has any plans to visit the Far East.

The Prime Minister

I have no immediate plans to do so, Sir.

Mr. Lamond

Is my right hon. Friend aware that since the EEC textile agreement was implemented on 18th July, Hong Kong manufacturers have been evading these quotas by channeling many millions of pounds worth of textiles through the Phillipines and Indonesia, which countries have no quotas, thus evading the whole spirit of the EEC agreement? Will my right hon. Friend do something about this matter?

The Prime Minister

Not only the EEC but the GATT Multi-Fibre Agreement has put restrictions on virtually all sensitive textile and clothing produces from Hong Kong, South Korea and Malaysia. My hon. Friend is no doubt taking up this matter with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade.

Mr. Pattie

If the Prime Minister visits the Far East, will he consider taking some of his hon. Friends below the gangway with him in order to enable them to broaden their tiny Chinese minds?