HC Deb 12 October 1976 vol 917 cc234-7
Q2. Mr. Corbett

asked the Prime Minister if he will list his public engagements for 12th October.

The Prime Minister

I shall be meeting Mr. Nguza, the Foreign Minister of Zaire, and this evening I shall be holding a reception in honour of the British Team at the 1976 Olympiad for the Disabled. In addition, I shall be holding meetings with ministerial colleagues and others.

Mr. Corbett

Will my right hon. Friend say whether he has been able to report to the Cabinet yet about his consultations with Chancellor Schmidt of West Germany? Is he aware that we Labour Members congratulate the Chancellor on his recent election success? He is on record as saying that the pound is grossly under-valued. Will the Prime Minister make a statement to the House on that conversation?

The Prime Minister

I have not so far made such a report. I congratulated Chancellor Schmidt on the success of his Government in the elections, and I am sure that the House will join with me in that. Our discussions covered a very wide range. They were without officials and went on for three and a half hours. We discussed a number of very important topics concerning not only such matters as East-West relations, but questions affecting the world economy and the interdependence of world trade. I found these discussions to be of very great value in enabling each of us to influence the other's attitudes.

Mr. Gordon Wilson

Will the Prime Minister be putting into his diary for this evening a possible meeting with representatives of the offshore module and platform construction yards, who are presently facing redundancies, in view of the emergency situation and the fact that they have travelled all the way from Scotland to discuss these matters with Ministers and those Members who are interested?

The Prime Minister

I am afraid that I cannot add now to my engagements for today. I had no previous notification of this proposal. I am sure that Members representing certain constituencies, and any Ministers that the representatives have arranged to see, will be glad to hear their representations.

Mr. Rifkind

Will the Prime Minister seek to emulate Herr Schmidt at the next election by ending up with fewer seats than the Opposition? As regards today's announcement that the right hon. Gentleman is to take the Chancellor of the Exchequer with him to his meeting with President Giscard d'Estaing in France next month, is he satisfied that the condition of the economy will allow both the First Lord of the Treasury and the Chancellor to be out of the country at the same time?

The Prime Minister

I must remind the Opposition, who are in danger of forgetting this, that at present the Labour Party has 36 more seats in the House than the Conservative Party—[Hors. MEMBERS: "SO what?"] The conclusion to be drawn is that we sit on the Government side and the Opposition sit opposite us.

The next election may well be a very long way off. Provided that the Government do not lose their nerve, as our predecessors did in 1972–73 on such matters as the money supply, we have a very good chance of coming through the next election with perhaps even a larger majority.

Mrs. Thatcher

Do I take it that the result of Chancellor Schmidt's visit to this country was that the Prime Minister learnt from him that if the Government hold an election early they may lose a large number of seats and will have to be saved by the Liberal Party?

The Prime Minister

The German elections, unlike ours, are held at fixed intervals. Although it is possible to hold elections early, on this occasion the election was held at the appropriate time as laid down by statute. As regards depending upon the Liberals, I have made it clear many, many times that as long as I can manage even a modest degree of support from my colleagues, the Labour Party will continue as the Government of this country and I shall be happy to lead it.

Mr. Pardoe

The Prime Minister will know that the Leader of the Opposition was a member of the Government who did their damnedest to get the Liberal Party to bail them out. In the course of his conversations with Herr Schmidt, did the right hon. Gentleman discover exactly what the German Chancellor meant by the word "under-valued" in the context of the British economy? Would the right hon. Gentleman like to amplify, having taken his tutorial from Herr Schmidt, exactly what an undervalued currency means?

The Prime Minister

I did not exactly cross-examine the Chancellor on this matter, but I think that he had in mind the competitive nature of British industry in the export market. Our goods can be sold at a much higher rate of exchange than sterling is commanding in the foreign exchange market. That is not a strange phenomenon. Indeed, I believe it was referred to in yesterday's debate. I am aware of some Midland manufacturers who are valuing their exports at a much higher rate than the short-term foreign exchange market. Although I did not cross-examine the Chancellor, I imagine that it was that to which he was referring.

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