HC Deb 02 November 1976 vol 918 cc1193-6
Q1. Mr. Gow

asked the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for 2nd November.

The Prime Minister (Mr. James Callaghan)

In addition to meetings with ministerial colleagues and others, this evening I hope to have an Audience of Her Majesty The Queen.

Mr. Gow

Will the Prime Minister make time today to reread the broadcast that he made to the nation on 5th April, when he said that there could be no lasting improvement in our living standards unless we stopped going deeper and deeper into debt? How does he reconcile that statement with the reality that during the past seven months the Chancellor of the Exchequer has added to the national debt by more than £6,000 million?

The Prime Minister

It shows that the recovery of a country that has declined over the past 20 years takes longer than six months, and that industrial regeneration, upon which the fortunes of this country are based and which has received the approval of the CBI, the TUC and the Government, is the best way in which we can make Britain fully competitive again. Until that time we shall have to continue slowly in the right direction.

Mr. David Steel

Were any of the ministerial meetings to which the right hon. Gentleman referred related to the progress of the talks at Geneva on the Rhodesian settlement? Will he give the House an assurance that although Mr. Ivor Richard is clearly doing a splendid job as chairman, the right hon. Gentleman will not hesitate to send the Foreign Secretary if that should prove necessary to maintain the momentum of British initiative towards a settlement?

The Prime Minister

I am grateful for what the hon. Gentleman says about Mr. Ivor Richard, whose experience is well known and who is proving, as I think he has done at the United Nations, to be an excellent chairman in gaining the confidence of everyone at the talks. As for the attendance of my right hon. Friend, who is now on a visit to Yugoslavia, he has indicated that if necessary he would go to Geneva. However, it seems to us at present that in this period of delicate negotiations Mr. Richard is well able to conduct the talks. I hope that there will be some progress.

Mr. Michael McGuire

Is my right hon. Friend aware that I am very sorry that his programme for today will not allow him to make a visit to my constituency, especially to Skelmersdale? Is he aware of the black despair that has settled over the town following the announcement by Courtaulds that it is shortly to close? If we say in the Labour Party that Socialism is the language of priorities, when my right hon. Friend—[Interruption.] I am making a most serious point. If we say that Socialism is the language of priorities, will my right hon. Friend assure my people in Skelmersdale that they will be given the highest priority by the Labour Government, even if that means rescheduling some of the Government Departments that are to be transferred to places that are not in half as much need as is Skelmersdale?

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend and I visited Skelmersdale together only two months ago. I am bound to say that I formed a much better impression both of the attributes of the town and of the labour force than I gained from the Press and by reading. I was under the strong impression then that Courtaulds intended to continue with the factory. I understand that today my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry has been meeting Sir Arthur Knight, the Chairman of Courtaulds, and I think that a statement is expected shortly. Certainly it is important that every step should be taken to restore employment in Skelmersdale—a town that has a considerable future if those who are there can bring themselves, as I am sure they can, to work productively and competitively.

Mrs. Thatcher

May I refer back to the Prime Minister's answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow)? As the right hon. Gentleman said in that original broadcast that we cannot go on borrowing indefinitely, and as he will not reduce Government expenditure, is he expecting to increase taxation in order to get the IMF loan?

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Lady really must wait upon the discussions that are taking place at this moment—[Interruption.]—but I can assure her that if there are any announcements to be made they will be made in this House in due course, and at the time that the Government choose and not as a result of shouting from hon. Members on the Opposition Benches.

Mrs. Thatcher

Does the Prime Minister recollect that in his broadcast on "Panorama" he gave two broad hints which he refused to give the House? He said that there was scope for increased taxation and that there was a margin for increased taxation. Do I understand that he has now ruled out increased taxation?

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Lady can draw any deduction she likes. In that broadcast on "Panorama" I was giving to a semi-philosophical question a wholly philosophical reply—that is to say, I was comparing the general levels of taxation in response to the question that had been asked. The right hon. Lady should not draw any more deductions from it than the weight of the answer will bear.

Mr. Crawford

Will the Prime Minister take time off his official engagements today and reflect on the very serious unemployment and investment situation in Scotland? Does he agree that the only way in which unemployment and inflation can be brought down and investment increased in Scotland is by the establishment of a strong Scots pound and the lower rates of interest that will follow from the marriage between self-government and Scotland's inherently stable balance of payments situation?

The Prime Minister

I have read the concoction that is apparently intended to prescribe financial and economic policy for Scotland. If I were an elector there, I would not be very attracted by it.

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