HC Deb 31 March 1977 vol 929 cc571-5
Q3. Mr. Canavan

asked the Prime Minister whether he will list his official engagements for 31st March.

Q7. Mr. Skinner

asked the Prime Minister what are his official engagements for 31st March.

The Prime Minister

This morning I took the chair at a meeting of the Cabinet. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall be holding further meetings with ministerial colleagues and others, including one with Mr. Cyrus Vance, the United States Secretary of State.

Mr. Canavan

Will my right hon. Friend find time today to tell the 33,000 unemployed school leavers what measures he intends to take to help them find jobs? Will he utterly reject the rather bizarre suggestion of the Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland to recruit them into some form of uniformed national service, because it would be reminiscent of Germany in the 1930s if we had an army of unemployed youngsters marching through the streets led by the Globtik Gauleiter of Cathcart?

The Prime Minister

In his Budget the Chancellor outlined that he was proposing to set aside £400 million over the next two years for the creation or maintenance of 150,000 to 200,000 jobs through such schemes as the temporary employment subsidy and job creation schemes of that sort, as well as assistance to small firms. The Government are awaiting a report from the Manpower Services Commission on youth employement which, I understand, we shall receive shortly. I am certain that when he speaks on employment this afternoon my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment will have something further to say on this matter.

With regard to service in the Army, I believe that the kind of schemes proposed by the Government are far superior to anything like recruiting people into the Armed Forces against their will or, indeed, anything which remotely resembles that.

Mrs. Thatcher

Has the Prime Minister this morning, or at any other time today, taken time to consider the consequences for those who have either sold or bought petrol since Tuesday if the Budget resolution were not passed on Monday evening? This is an important constitutional question and I hope that the Prime Minister will make clear what consequences will flow from that decision.

The Prime Minister

I shall certainly consider that matter, but we have put the resolution before the House and we expect it to be carried. There would be serious consequences if it were not.

Mrs. Thatcher

But the Prime Minister, on his own admission, is the head of a minority Government. He must have taken time to consider this before the resolution came before the House. We are engaged in the Budget debate, and he is First Lord of the Treasury. If he knows the answer now, he should tell us—or is it that he does not know?

The Prime Minister

The position will be the same as on any other vote. In other words, when the Government put down a motion they expect and hope that it will be carried.

Mr. Molloy

Is my right hon. Friend aware that he has a far more important task in correcting the impression given overseas, notwithstanding that the right hon. Lady takes every opportunity to delight in any difficulty afflicting Britain or the British people? Will my right hon. Friend see to it that he carries on with his very good work of giving people overseas a true picture of Great Britain and not the false one perpetrated by the right hon. Lady?

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend will be comforted by the fact that the true position about Britain has got through to overseas, hence the great strength of sterling and the purchase of gilt-edged that has gone on as a result of the Budget. I think that the position is well recognised. Of course, I understand that the right hon. Lady believes she would be able to conduct our affairs better—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—but I would be a little more convinced if I saw what the Opposition's policy was on about 17 different subjects.

Mr. Marten

Following the previous question about the Lib-Lab alliance, will the Prime Minister, when he sees ministerial colleagues later in the day, discuss with them the proposition that the Leader of the Liberal Party should be invited as a fraternal delegate to the Labour Party Conference?

Hon. Members


Mr. Norman Lamont

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I fully appreciate that the content of ministerial answers is not a matter for the Chair—[HON. MEMBERS: "Sit down."]—but we are in a situation where the Government are a minority Government and where they have made a deal, not a secret but a public arrangement, with the Liberal Party which states that Government policy must be modified. Therefore, surely the Prime Minister ought to answer questions about it.

Mr. Speaker

Order. It is not for me to tell the Prime Minister what to answer.

Mr. Thorpe

When the Prime Minister sees Mr. Cyrus Vance today, following the disappointing outcome to the strategic arms limitation talks in Moscow, will he assure the Secretary of State that this country would not wish the President in any way to water down, retract or retreat from his firm stand on human rights in order to get some agreement on defence and that, although we are naturally disappointed that the Moscow talks did not yield greater success, none the less we are 100 per cent. behind the President in his stand?

The Prime Minister

I am looking forward to hearing from Mr. Vance a summary of his visit to Moscow, which, frankly, is of far greater importance than most of the Questions I have been asked this afternoon. The President is aware of our support for his general stand on human rights. He has also made it clear to me that he does not wish the Belgrade conference to be polemical in nature when it meets. With regard to the temporary breakdown, if that is the correct word, of the talks on strategic arms limitation, my own deduction would be, subject to what Mr. Vance has to say, that this is costing the Soviet Union so much in resources that it will not rush into a large new arms programme out of pique or because it disagrees with the President on any other matter. I shall therefore encourage Mr. Vance to persist in his current discussions, which will be resumed in May with Mr. Gromyko.

Mr. Corbett

Will my right hon. Friend put the proposition to Mr. Vance, which may make all the difference to the progress of the negotiations, that the Americans should include the Cruise missile in their proposals?

The Prime Minister

That has been a source of dispute because the Americans have indicated to the Soviet Union that they believe that the Backfire bomber should also be included in any reduction in strategic arms. This bargain must be struck. I believe that President Ford was in favour of excluding both the Cruise missile and the Backfire bomber from any agreement, but that does not seem to have been possible. However, I do not think that it would be right to ask the Americans to exclude their Cruise missile unless the Soviet Union did something equal in return.

Mr. Tebbit

Will the Prime Minister now make a better attempt to answer the question put to him by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition? Is it not right that the House should know, before it votes on the Budget resolution on petrol, what the effect of refusing to pass that resolution would be? Is not the right hon. Gentleman aware—[Interruption.] I wish that if the Liberals had nothing to say they would keep their mouths shut. Is not the Prime Minister aware that for two days people have been charging tax on petrol and that on Monday night the resolution may well not be passed? The Prime Minister must know the answer. Will he now give it?

The Prime Minister

As soon as the Chancellor of the Exchequer has finished his Budget Statement and the Budget resolutions are put, as has been the case in all the years the hon. Gentleman has been here, the change takes effect. It is always subject to ratification by the House at the end of the Budget debate. That is the normal process that will be followed on this occasion.

Mr. Mates

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In replying to the point of order raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Thames (Mr. Lamont), you rightly said that you had no responsibility for what the Prime Minister said in his answer. [An HON. MEMBER: "Sit down then."] But as you have also told us on many occasions, Mr. Speaker, that you are the custodian of the rights of Back Benchers, and have also said from the Chair that the point of Question Time is the asking for and giving of information, to whom can we turn when the Prime Minister flatly refuses to give information on a matter of public concern at the only time in the week when we can question him?

Mr. Speaker

The House knows that Ministers are responsible for their replies or their non-replies.