HC Deb 06 December 1977 vol 940 cc1117-21
Q1. Mr. Mike Thomas

asked the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for 6th December.

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Michael Foot)

In the absence of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in Brussels, I have been asked to reply.

My right hon. Friend is today attending the meeting of the European Council.

Mr. Thomas

Has the Lord President had time to consult the Prime Minister about the events of yesterday and the vote on the motion of my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson)? Can he now make a clear statement to the House about the Government's intentions?

Mr. Foot

I have not yet had the opportunity to consult the Prime Minister on yesterday's events. The House reached an important conclusion and the Government are giving urgent and careful attention to both the debate and the vote.

Mr. Tebbit

The Lord President said that the House reached an important conclusion. Is he aware that the conclusion was for the House to adjourn? What inference does the Lord President draw from that? Will the Government do as the House clearly wished, and hold the inquiry in public?

Mr. Foot

As the hon. Gentleman and, I think, the rest of the House knows, even though the motion is on the Adjournment, the House can reach important conclusions. Such conclusions have been reached on previous Adjournment debates. The Government do not underrate the significance of the debate and the vote and we shall announce at a very early date how we intend to proceed.

Mr. Noble

Will my right hon. Friend contact the Prime Minister today and ask him to reaffirm to his European colleagues the continuing stance that we have adopted at the near-completion of the textile renegotiations? Will the Prime Minister particularly ask them to reaffirm their commitment to a unilateral declaration that we will go it alone if GATT pushes down the road to greater free trade in this matter?

Mr. Foot

I am sure that all those considerations are well known to my right hon. Friend in his discussions at Brussels, and that he needs no incitement from me to use the opportunity to stand up for British interests.

Mr. Whitelaw

When the right hon. Gentleman discusses with the Prime Minister the decision of the House of Commons in favour of more open government—that, I take it, is what the decision meant in the case of the Crown Agents—will he also inform him of a growing suspicion that there is something to hide over the Polish ships deal and that there is, therefore, a need for an urgent Government statement?

Mr. Foot

On the first part of the right hon. Gentleman's question, the proposition which the Government put to the House yesterday, and which was not found acceptable, was not designed to avoid open government in any sense. It was designed to have the matter further and speedily considered.

Of course, we take into account the different view which was expressed by the House in the debate and at the end of it. I do not believe that there is any comparison whatsoever with the Polish ships deal; and I do not believe there is anything to hide in the deal. Indeed, many months ago, it was made plain by the Government that we were prepared to enter into negotiations and to make subsidies available in that deal. I believe that the House accepted that. If it had not been accepted, many more people would have been thrown out of work.

Q2. Mr. Viggers

asked the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 6th December 1977.

Mr. Foot

I have been asked to reply.

I refer the hon. Member to the reply which I gave earlier today to my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, East (Mr. Thomas).

Mr. Viggers

As part of his duties on behalf of the Prime Minister today, will the Lord President clarify a point that concerns firemen and others? What is voluntary about the present pay code?

Mr. Foot

It is voluntary by comparison with previous codes. The code that was initiated by our predecessors in office entailed statutory provisions, and the evasion of those provisions could have involved a criminal offence. That is not the case under the present policy.

Mr. Madden

Reverting to the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale (Mr. Noble), the Lord President will know of the extreme interest and concern of the British textile industry in the bilateral talks which are taking place between the EEC Commission and exporting nations. Therefore, will he have a word with the Secretary of State for Trade to arrange for an early statement in order that we may have the details of these important talks?

Mr. Foot

I am not sure whether we are trespassing on Thursday's business, but I shall certainly have a discussion with my right hon. Friend about the possibility of a statement on the subject being made to the House before the House rises, if it is necessary. I shall raise with him the questions put by my hon. Friend and by my other hon. Friend, the Member for Rossendale (Mr. Noble).

Mr. Grylls

Will the Leader of the House be more forthcoming about the Polish ships deal? Will he ask the Secretary of State for Industry to tell us what is happening over this contract, and about the company being formed in Poland—Polsko Brytyjskie Przediewziecie Zeglugowe Sp. Z.Oo Szczecin? Can he tell us how many British seamen will be building up the COMECON merchant fleet?

Mr. Foot

In reply to the last part of the supplementary question, no British workers will be put out of jobs by these proposals, and no British sailors will be put out of jobs. Indeed, British shipowners have available to them similar assistance. I think that the hon. Gentleman must look at those aspects of the matter much more carefully. However, I hope that the whole House is in favour of a successful conclusion to these negotiations, as the jobs of many of the people represented in the House depend upon it.

Mr. Blenkinsop

Does my right hon. Friend agree that if these orders had been placed abroad, as they might well have been, a great number of workers in this country would certainly have lost their jobs, and the position of British shipowners would have been no better?

Mr. Foot

I certainly agree with my hon. Friend. The Government will not be deterred from their efforts to try to secure jobs for British workers by the catcalls of Opposition Members.

Sir G. Howe

Will the Leader of the House now come back to the central point of the question about the Polish shipbuilding deal? Does he recollect that it is two months since the Prime Minister announced that the contract was about to be concluded and six months since one of his noble Friends told another place that details of the financial arrangements would be made known as soon as they were completed? Will he give the House an assurance that details of those arrangements will be made public—as to the subsidy involved and as to the penalty clauses involved—as soon as possible? Can he tell us when those details will be forthcoming?

Mr. Foot

I shall certainly look into the question when, in fact, would be the most appropriate time for a statement to be made to the House on all the questions that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has raised. But I should have thought that in view of the two months and the even longer period that he and his hon. Friends have had in which to discuss those matters, they might be favourably disposed to those who are fighting to get jobs for British workers.