HC Deb 01 August 1978 vol 955 cc249-53
Q1. Mr. Coodhart

asked the Prime Minister whether he will list his public appointments for 1st August.

The Prime Minister (Mr. James Callaghan)

In addition to my duties in this House, I shall be holding meetings with ministerial colleagues and others.

Mr. Goodhart

During his busy day will the Prime Minister try to explain to the British people why food prices have doubled in the past four years under a Socialist Government?

Hon. Members


The Prime Minister

The answer has been given so often that I could not believe that the hon. Gentleman had brought his supplementary question to an end. As he knows, during the past 12 months food prices have increased by only 6.7 per cent., if my recollection is correct. That means that we have overtaken the irresponsibility of the Conservative Government, who left us with a legacy of an increased money supply that was totally intolerable.

Mr. Terry Walker

Could my right hon. Friend, during a very busy day, have talks with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry to see whether something can be done to overcome the problems of the collaborative programme with the Americans concerning future projects in the aircraft industry? This matter is most pressing, as the Prime Minister knows.

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir. Discussions with United States firms and with European Governments and firms are actively taking place now. Indeed, the most recent discussions with the European industry have been g encouragin and I hope that decisions will be reached before long.

Mrs. Thatcher

Does the Prime Minister agree with the Labour Party that it should be made harder for council tenants to buy their own homes?

The Prime Minister

It depends on the circumstances. Where there are enough council houses, it is the party's policy and the Government's policy that they should be sold, and, where there are not enough council houses, that they should be retained. It is a perfectly sensible approach.

Mrs. Thatcher

The question refers to discounts. Does the Prime Minister agree that council tenants will still be able to purchase their homes at a discount?

The Prime Minister

That depends on the circumstances again. There are no general rules about these matters. It depends upon the financial circumstances of the council and of the occupier.

Mrs. Thatcher

So the Prime Minister is prepared to deprive tenants of the discount they already have.

Hon. Members


Q2. Mr. Loyden

asked the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 1st August.

The Prime Minister

I refer my hon. Friend to the reply which I have just given to the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart).

Mr. Loyden

Will my right hon. Friend give some thought today to the economy and jobs? Does he not agree that Summit meetings relate to long-term problems, but that there is a need for immediate action? Will he consider what steps can be taken by a State enterprise to develop at an accelerated rate gas on the north-west coast that would revive the economy in that area and provide jobs in the construction and shipbuilding industries?

The Prime Minister

As my hon. Friend knows, considerable assistance has been given to the Merseyside area—indeed, a total of more than £300 million—which has safeguarded about 24,000 jobs. The progress report issued today by the Manpower Services Commission also shows some special facilities available, I believe, for Merseyside and Ellesmere Port.

As regards the development of the gas finds off the north-west coast, I believe that between 2 trillion and 3 trillion cu. ft. of gas is available there that would save us £2 billion on our balance of payments when developed. This is obviously a very considerable find and goes to show how we must use the riches that are there for the best benefit of our people and not for a short-term spending spree.

Mr. David Steel

May I ask a question about today's engagements? If the Prime Minister is having a meeting with the Secretary of State for Industry, as was suggested a few moments ago, will he discuss with him the continued dispute in the Post Office? Is he aware that, with the House going into recess, this matter affects constituents of every Member of the House? Indeed, a few weeks ago the right hon. Gentleman said that he would have a word with the Secretary of State about it. I wonder whether those talks produced any result.

The Prime Minister

The Secretary of State for Industry is paying very close attention to this matter and is handling it as best he can.

Mr. Mellish

During his busy day today, will the Prime Minister look at a situation which is becoming increasingly bad, a propos what the Leader of the Opposition just asked him—namely, that hundreds and hundreds of those living in inner London who would normally have had the right to transfer to outer London boroughs are now being denied that right because the present Tory GLC policy is to sell? If this is to become a General Election challenge, many of us on this side of the House will willingly accept it.

The Prime Minister

I am glad that my right hon. Friend has drawn attention to the important qualification that I made —namely, that it is foolish policy, and the Conservative Party should not adopt it, that council houses should in all circumstances be sold irrespective of the needs of the people.

Mr. David Atkinson

Doubtless the Prime Minister will have in mind today the forthcoming General Election and, in particular, his party's manifesto. Can he give an assurance to the House and the country now that his manifesto will not be based on the Marxist-inspired "Labour's Programme for Britain 1976", which he himself described as the total sum of all his hopes?

The Prime Minister

The hon. Gentleman asks whether I shall be considering a General Election today. The answer to that supplementary question is "No, I shall not." I am aware that the Conservative Party has made certain assumptions about an election. It is upon those assumptions that it is launching this huge advertising programme costing £2 million —unprecedented in British history—with which to beguile the public. I hope that, whatever may appear in anybody's manifesto, those firms, breweries and others, which are contributing freely by giving up poster sites will declare themselves, so that we shall know what benefits they hope to get from a Conservative Government.

Mrs. Castle

Has my right hon. friend had time to consider the reactions in this House, in another place and in the press to the Government's White Paper on the Official Secrets Act? Is he aware that the general view is that the proposals for section 2 will make criminal prosecutions for releasing information more likely, while doing nothing to make available to the public the information to which they have a right? Will he withdraw the White Paper and introduce proposals for a freedom of information Act?

The Prime Minister

It is quite true that the reform of section 2 has no bearing upon the release of information. The two things are quite separate. That has always been so; I do not think that my right hon. Friend can just have discovered it. I originally gave evidence to the Franks Committeee in which I said that I thought there was no need to reform section 2, because its operation was clearly understood. However, the Franks Committee recommended it and the Government accepted that recommendation. If the House does not wish to reform section 2, the House must, in due course, say so. My views about this have been very ambivalent, since the section has operated with considerable satisfaction for so long, but the Government have reached their conclusion on it and will submit it to the House.

A great deal of information—much more than ever before—is given to the House by the Government, and I do not go beyond the words of the White Paper.

Forward to