HC Deb 07 December 1978 vol 959 cc1616-21
Q2. Mr. Skinner

asked the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for 7th December.

The Prime Minister

This morning I presided at a meeting of the Cabinet. In addition to my duties in this House, I am holding meetings with both the Prime Minister of Egypt and the Prime Minister of Canada. They will, of course, be separate meetings. This evening I shall be host at a dinner in honour of Mr. Trudeau.

Mr. Skinner

Did the Prime Minister notice today's strong farm workers' lobby in Whitehall? Will he put on his"Farmer Jim"hat and consider their justified pay claim? Perhaps he will stop theorising about the subject as an employer and recommend to the powers that be that he will meet his part of the bill, and to hell with sanctions.

The Prime Minister

I do not know whether my hon. Friend knows the details of the farming situation. I should be very happy indeed to introduce him to some of the considerations. Perhaps I can inform him now that what the wages council does is to fix minimum wages—the actual wages are settled by negotiation on each farm.

Mr. Hugh Fraser

Will the Prime Minister now tell the House what he proposes in regard to a further inquiry and action on the Bingham report and on the question of the Beira patrol?

The Prime Minister

I think that I am entitled to say that contacts are being continued between the Front Benches. The Government have their own clear view about what course should be followed. The Lord President will be very happy to continue those discussions to see whether we can get agreement.

Mr. Noble

Does my right hon. Friend accept that a majority of Labour Members and people in the country were delighted with his statement on the European monetary system yesterday? Does not he consider that the question of currency stability needs to be discussed in a much wider international framework, particularly with the United States?

The Prime Minister

Yes. In fact, I made reference to this yesterday. However, my hon. Friends question gives me the chance to say that I hope to meet the President of the United States. Indeed, a statement was issued an hour ago saying that, at the invention of President Giscard d'Estaing, the President of the United States, President Giscard d'Estaing himself, Chancellor Schmidt and I will be meeting on the island of Guadeloupe on 4th and 5th January to discuss matters of common political concern. There will be no formal agenda at this meeting, but our discussions will be on an intimate basis, which will enable us to exchange views with each other. I believe that it will be of benefit to the world.

Mr. Tapsell

When the right hon. Gentleman was on the mainland of Europe earlier this week, did he receive many congratulations on his recent savage attack on the memory of Sir Winston Churchill?

The Prime Minister

No one raised the question with me. I think that the Europeans have a sense of proportion about the cut and thrust of debate in this House.

Miss Maynard

With regard to farm workers' pay, will the Prime Minister consider favourably meeting the leaders of the farm workers' union and to look sympathetically at their claim, in view of the industry's ability to pay, the farm workers' production record, the fact that of those drawing family income supplement 17 per cent. are farm workers and also in view of the need to increase domestic food production in order to cushion the impact of the CAP on the British consumer?

The Prime Minister

If any meeting is to be arranged—I do not want to pronounce upon it—I think that it should be with the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

Mr. Grylls

Will the Prime Minister take time today to answer the question of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition about the Comptroller and Auditor General going into the accounts of the NEB? Is it not rather disgraceful that he refuses to allow this to happen on the very day that the NEB is asking for another £1,000 million of taxpayers' money? Would not that be the right way of doing it?

The Prime Minister

I have already answered that question.

Q3. Mr. Welsh

asked the Prime Minister if he will his official engagements for Thursday 7th December.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Welsh

Is the Prime Minister aware of the inadequacy of present death grant levels in view of rising costs and inflation, and that to maintain the death grant at its original 1949 value it would have to be raised from the present level of £30 to about £123? In view of the great concern felt by pensioner organisations, will he therefore look into this matter in order to raise the grant to something more appropriate to present day costs?

The Prime Minister

I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman for giving me some preliminary warning that he intended to raise this matter, which has enabled me to look into it. As he correctly said, the value of the death grant has substantially fallen behind. This matter was discussed very recently at the Labour Party conference, among other places, and has been taken up by a number of my hon. Friends. I think that there is obviously a substantial discrepancy here. But we are keeping a very tight control on public expenditure, and we intend to keep it within the limits which are laid down. Therefore, I cannot undertake that there will be an increase in the death grant during the current financial year.

Mr. Wrigglesworth

Will my right hon. Friend take an opportunity today to look at reports that the Co-operative Housing Agency is to be closed down? Is he aware that if this does take place it will cause great anger in the co-operative movement? Will he take steps to ensure that it does not?

The Prime Minister

I am not aware of this, but I shall bring it to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment and ask him to communicate with my hon. Friend.

Mr. Gwynfor Evans

Arising from the Prime Minister's statement yesterday about the development of microelectronics, is he aware that we have in Wales a unique country which would be a wonderful site for the development of this technology?

The Prime Minister

I heartily agree with the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question. I am sure that this new technology could happily find a home in South Wales. However, I think that we must look at this from a national point of view and I cannot go further than my right hon. Friend has done so far.

Mr. Tim Renton

In the course of a busy week, has the Prime Minister yet had time to read yesterday's leading letter in The Daily Telegraph from the right hon. Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson) entitled"The Duty of a Minister "? If so. has he yet obtained a commitment to collective responsibility from the Secretary of State for Energy similar to that which his predecessor obtained? If he has obtained such a commitment, why is it not working?

The Prime Minister

I did read my right hon. Friend's letter, and I was very interested in it. If I have anything to communicate to the hon. Gentleman on the subject, I shall let him know in due course.

Mr. Hugh Jenkins

If my right hon. Friend has time during the course of the day, will he look at the replies given by the chairman of the NEB to the Public Accounts Committee? Is he aware that the good reason given by the chairman for non-disclosure was that of business confidentiality? Is he further aware that, though on the Conservative side of the House, contrary to what the right hon. Lady said, business confidentiality is widely accepted as a good reason, it is not accepted as such by Labour Members?

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend has revealed what I had already suspected —that perhaps there are more points of view than that expressed by the right hon. Lady. It only goes to show how right I was to be cautious and not to be seduced by her blandishments. I shall certainly ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry to consider the points raised by the right hon. Lady to see whether there is any occasion to change the practice. But clearly, when we are dealing with private enterprise firms, a lot of value must be attached to business confidence if they wish it to be respected.

Sir Anthony Meyer

Will the Prime Minister find time today to complete his thinking on the advice to be given to those who, in the course of industrial disputes in essential services, are contemplating crossing the picket lines in order to ensure the safety of the public?

The Prime Minister

This is an important point. I understand that there is a Private Notice Question at 3.30 p.m. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will kindly wait for a few moments.

Mr. Loyden

In view of what my right hon. Friend has said about advanced technology, will he take some time today to consider the social consequences of that technology? Does he not agree that this is an important factor in the siting of future industries? Will he therefore consider whether the siting of INMOS in the South-West would be a contradiction of that policy?

The Prime Minister

I am aware that my hon. Friend is pressing the case for INMOS to be settled in the Merseyside area in view of the need there, but I cannot pronounce on that matter today. Of course the social consequences of basing these industries are important, as are the consequences that will flow from the employment that they will give. That I readily understand.