HC Deb 20 January 1977 vol 924 cc629-33
Q3. Mr. Luce

asked the Prime Minister what his engagements are for Thursday 20th January.

Q4. Mr. Skinner

asked the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for 20th January 1977.

Q7. Mr. Dykes

asked the Prime Minister if he will list his engagements for Thursday 20th January.

Q8. Mr. Gow

asked the Prime Minister whether he will list his engagements for 20th January 1977.

Q9. Mr. Blaker

asked the Prime Minister if he will list his engagements for 20th January 1977.

The Prime Minister

This morning I chaired a meeting of the Cabinet, and I shall be holding further meetings with ministerial colleagues and others.

Mr. Luce

In view of the considerable public discussion about the rôle of the United Kingdom in relation to countries which abuse human rights, will the Prime Minister take the opportunity of his engagement at Question Time to express his views? Does he agree that we are more likely to influence other countries in the way we want through a policy of contact rather than through a policy of boycott and isolation?

The Prime Minister

To give a complete answer to that question, I would want to reflect longer. The general position is that contact is good. I believe that it is good between Government and Government and between individuals, but there are always particular cases which arise out of these principles. As far as human rights are concerned, I have made clear many times since the signing of the Helsinki Agreement that there are various ways to approach other signatories of the agreement. One is by way of Government, though this should not necessarily be publicised or appear to be a gesture. The other way is by the expression of general public opinion on these matters, for which the Government take no responsibility. Both methods are right ways to pursue the objective that everyone throughout the whole civilised world can live in peace and dignity and under the rule of law.

Mr. Skinner

Will the Prime Minister take time to look at a Question which I put down last week asking him to instruct Ministers and officials not to patronise Trust Houses Forte hotels while they refuse to accept the recognition of trade unions and there are people on the picket lines in many towns and cities throughout the country? Is it not the height of hypocrisy that when the Tory Party leadership is trying to woo the trade unions—

Sir J. Langford-Holt

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Can you enlighten the House as to what on earth this supplementary question has to do with the original Question?

Mr. Speaker

If I tried to tell hon. Members that about supplementary questions, I would do nothing else.

Mr. Skinner

The Question got through the Table Office last week, therefore it must be in order. As I was saying, is it not the height of hypocrisy that, at a time when the Tory Party leadership is trying to woo the trade unions, one of the consultants involved in the Trust Houses Forte hotel business, advising it on employment matters, is none other than the Tory Shadow Employment Minister, who last October was telling members of the Tory Party Conference to join trade unions?

The Prime Minister

I am not acquainted with the details of the Trust Houses Forte dispute, but I hope that everyone on both sides of the House, including the Shadow Employment Minister, will urge Trust Houses Forte to accept trade union recognition for its members. That is essential for good relations in industry. As regards where people should stay, I do not wish to issue any instructions on this matter.

Mr. Dykes

Since the Prime Minister is becoming increasingly proud of his regular meetings with the CBI, would he say unequivocally, so that we all know, that he accepts the CBI's case for lower marginal rates of personal taxation on middle management?

The Prime Minister

There is little doubt that middle management feels that it has been very harshly treated over recent years, and a feeling of dissatisfaction of this sort clearly must be taken into account. The hon. Member, however, does not really expect me to anticipate the Budget.

Mr. Gow

Will the Prime Minister reflect on the answer he gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Shoreham (Mr. Luce) when he said that it was his aim to see that our people live in peace and dignity and under the rule of law? Will he bear in mind the conduct of the Secretary of State for Employment over the operation of the closed shop, notably in British Rail, where more than 31 employees, many with a lifetime of service, have been dismissed, in direct conflict with the three principles which the Prime Minister enunciated?

The Prime Minister

I think that the Opposition are in some difficulty over the closed shop. Having read the statement in their new policy document, I think they will find this very difficult to carry out. They should keep up to date, especially as only yesterday a new chapter was inaugurated between the Conservative Party and the trade union movement. Hon. Members should remember that.

Hon. Members

Answer the question.

Mr. Blaker

Will the Prime Minister take five minutes this afternoon to convey to the National Executive Committee of the Labour Party the satisfaction of Opposition Members about the fact that it has confirmed the appointment of Mr. Andy Bevan, and has thus hung a red albatross around the party's neck for the next General Election?

The Prime Minister

This is not a matter for me. That question illustrates yet again the level to which Question Time has sunk.

Mrs. Millie Miller

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind, referring back to the earlier answer he gave about the plight of people who are not able to express views in their own countries and who do not have the freedom to move away from them, the heinous crimes committed in some countries with extreme Right-wing Governments? Will he also bear in mind the need to ensure that, although we carry on trade and have contacts with them, these countries are aware all the time of our views of their behaviour in relation to human rights?

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend expresses it exactly. In the case of South Africa, for example, we have made it quite clear that we accept the United Nations decisions on these matters in relation to the supply of arms. However, we have maintained the flow of trade between our two countries. I would say that relations between us are cool; they certainly do not have the degree of warmth or intimacy that we have with a number of other countries. This is true of all countries whatever part of the political spectrum they inhabit.

Mr. Whitehead

Will my right hon. Friend go so far as to express the regret which most hon. Members feel at the arrest of so many of the signatories of Charter '77 in Czechoslovakia, many of whom are Socialists, trade unionists and civil rights workers?

The Prime Minister

I have no hesitation in doing that. It was, after all, the Labour Government in 1968 who called the House back from recess at a time of events which merited condemnation by the whole of the British people. That was our position then and it is still our position.