HC Deb 13 April 1978 vol 947 cc1659-63
Q4. Mr. Silvester

asked the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 13th April 1978.

The Prime Minister

This morning I presided 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. Later today I shall be leaving for a visit to West Yorkshire.

Mr. Silvester

Will the Prime Minister spare a moment to consider with his party colleagues how much damage was done by the distribution of 100,000 leaflets by the Young Socialists to schools before he intervened? Does he believe that it is desirable to continue—as is reported—the process of recruitment in schools when he takes an opposite view about the National Front?

The Prime Minister

I do not answer at the Dispatch Box for party matters. This is a party matter, and I have nothing to say at the Dispatch Box.

Mr. Spearing

In his busy schedule, will the Prime Minister take time to reflect on proposals made last weekend in Brussels for a semi European currency linked to the European unit of account? Will he agree that the way to resolve employment and industrial difficulties is through world trade? Will he agree that this is a much better way of solving the problems of both this country and the EEC? Such proposals as those put forward in Brussels are half-way to economic and monetary union, which would be opposed by hon. Members of this House.

The Prime Minister

I dealt with most of these questions last Monday, when I made a report on the subject. I have not changed my mind since then.

Mrs. Thatcher

Has the Prime Minister taken time today to consider the effects on the financial markets of the Budget and, in particular, the effect of the declared intention by both the Chancellor and the Chief Secretary to introduce a fourteenth Budget in July? Will he agree that quarterly budgets add to uncertainty and induce lack of confidence in the markets at a time when we need confidence?

The Prime Minister

As a general matter, I have often noticed that the financial markets over-react to statements, and I do not regard them as good short-term judges of speeches or statements. I think that the Leader of the Opposition is rather misquoting what has been said. There has been no declared intention to my knowledge to introduce another Budget, and, indeed, I am not aware of any intention to do so. All that has been said is that we are now working towards a world situation—I know that the right hon. Lady disapproves of these international gatherings—in which it will be possible to restore some confidence. Unless and until that happens, I do not see any prospect at all for another Budget.

Mrs. Thatcher

May I press the Prime Minister a little further? The fall in the markets today was serious, and it came after an increase of 1 per cent. in the minimum lending rate. It also came in the face of the Chancellor's own forecasts of rising inflation next year and of economic figures forecasting a deteriorating trade balance in the first half of this year. Is the Prime Minister now saying that there is no present intention to introduce a July Budget? If so, this would add to confidence.

The Prime Minister

I am obliged to the Leader of the Opposition for putting it in that direct way. I thought I had already said that. I know of no intention—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—to introduce a Budget in July, and I should have thought that I would be the first to be informed of such an event. I am sure that the right hon. Lady is trying to restore confidence, and I assure her that, as I know of no intention, there is no intention. Of course, from time to time there are changes in our domestic situation and in the international situation, and that is what the July Summit is all about. We want to get a higher level of world trade. But, unless and until that happens—and so far the preliminary work has not proceeded far enough—there is no prospect of a July Budget.

Mr. Mellish

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, if the Chancellor is in the same mood in future as he was on Tuesday, as far as we are concerned he can come here every day?

The Prime Minister

I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) and many others feel that way. This Budget brought benefits to almost every person in the country. We have said constantly that it is important that we should not overstretch ourselves, and the Budget is intended to keep within the proper limits. We shall continue to govern the country in that way.

Mr. Baker

Will the Prime Minister fill in that part of the Budget strategy about which the Chancellor was rather coy? We want to hear from the Prime Minister what level of wage settlements he would like to see when phase 3 expires later this year. What will happen in phase 4? Will there be a limit of 5 per cent. or 7 per cent.? If there is no limit for the private sector, the Prime Minister and the Chancellor must decide whether there will be one for the public sector and what the level of wage settlements will be.

The Prime Minister

I am grateful to the hon. Member for reminding me of all these factors. I assure him that they are kept fully in mind.

Mr. Jay

Is the Prime Minister aware that, if we had adopted the Tory policy of much bigger tax cuts and, therefore, bigger deficits, the effect on the markets would have been very serious?

The Prime Minister

Yes, that is undoubtedly true. This is the dilemma in which the Opposition find themselves. On the one hand they press irresponsibly for bigger tax cuts, and on the other they look at the level of tax that we have decided to cut and then they try to rebuke us because they think that we have gone too far.

Sir P. Bryan

Further to the Prime Minister's answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Withington (Mr. Silvester), may I ask him to make an appointment today with the Secretary of State for Education and Science and ask her opinion of the fact that Mr. Andy Bevan, an official of his party, took part in and organised the distribution of leaflets aimed at recruiting young children to the National Union of Schoolchildren?

The Prime Minister

No, Sir. It is well established, Mr. Speaker—and you would correct me if I endeavoured to break the rule—that I do not answer at the Dispatch Box on party matters. I answer on the responsibilities of the Government.

Mr. Adley

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The Prime Minister has just said that he will not answer Questions on a party matter. Are you aware that the Table Office has refused to accept Questions to the Prime Minister about his message to the Labour candidate at Glasgow, Garscadden because it was said that it was a party matter? But presumably the Prime Minister used No. 10 Downing Street paper on which to write that message. May we have some clarification on the matter, because the Prime Minister is trying to have it both ways?

Mr. Speaker

I have already received—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Order. I hope that hon. Members will have the courtesy to wait until I have finished. I have already received private representations from another hon. Member on that matter. I have promised the hon. Gentleman concerned to look at the matter, and I shall be writing to him.