HC Deb 12 December 1978 vol 960 cc227-34
Q1. Mr. Montgomery

asked the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 12th December.

The Prime Minister (Mr. James Callaghan)

In addition to my duties in this House, I shall be holding meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. This evening I hope to have an audience of Her Majesty the Queen.

Mr. Montgomery

Will the Prime Minister, at some time during his busy day, give some thought to the development of the microelectronics industry, and perhaps deny the rumour, which is causing great concern on each side of the House, that the INMOS research and development project is to be sited at Bristol? Does not he agree that, as a great deal of public money is involved, the project should go to an assisted area? Does not he agree that Greater Manchester, with all its facilities, would be a very suitable site for the project?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir, the Government are giving consideration to this matter. The Secretary of State for Industry will announce the Government's decision in due course. It is true that there are many sites in Britain which would be useful and which could perfectly well accommodate this valuable new public enterprise. Whatever happens to the headquarters, I hope that all the manufacturing jobs—which will be in the proportion of at least 10 to 1 to the headquarters—will go to the development areas.

Mr. Ron Thomas

Will my right hon. Friend spare a moment in his very busy day to consider the amendment on the Order Paper, in the names of many of his hon. Friends on the Back Benches, in response to the Government's motion on the fight against inflation? Will he, in response to the Labour Party conference and the trade union conferences, declare a moratorium on all sanctions and get down to some further negotiations with the Trades Union Congress and the Confederation of British Industry?

The Prime Minister

I have considered the amendment that my hon. Friend and some other hon. Friends have tabled. I noticed the reference at the beginning to what they describe as the hypocrisy of the Conservative Party on this matter. I am sure that opportunities will exist tomorrow, subject to hon. Members catching your eye, Mr. Speaker, for the opinions set out in the amendment to be expressed.

As to declaring a moratorium, I regret very much that the last discussions we had with the TUC just failed to come to a conclusion, after I had undertaken that we would have these discussions, and I would be very ready to have further discussions with the TUC on these and other subjects.

Mr. Kilfedder

Is the Prime Minister aware that about three weeks ago, just before the present Provisional IRA campaign of bombing began in Northern Ireland, the Eire Government withdrew the police who had been stationed along the border for the last three years?

Will the Prime Minister find time today to make representations to Mr. Lynch, urging him to restore the police, in order to stop the smuggling of explosives into Northern Ireland and to stem the flow of Provisional IRA men going into Northern Ireland and back again into the Republic?

The Prime Minister

I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman and will inform my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland of what he has said about this matter. It is my experience, from my conversations with the Taoiseach, Mr. Lynch, that the Republic is as anxious as we are to avoid violence on either side of the border in Northern Ireland. I know that he has taken many steps to try to prevent it.

I should like, if I may, to add that I very much regret the explosions which occurred today, and which seem to be another example of lack of humanity on the part of those who are perpetrating them.

Q2. Mrs. Bain

asked the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday, 12th December.

The Prime Minister

I refer the hon. Member to the reply which I have just given to the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Montgomery).

Mrs. Bain

In view of the motion in the name of the Prime Minister on today's Order Paper, will he take out his obviously busy diary and indicate to the House how much of his winter break he intends to spend in Scotland and Wales? If he does not intend to move his private office to either Scotland or Wales during that period, will he tell us how much time he intends to spend in Scotland and Wales during the referendum campaign, and whether he intends to use that as an opportunity to announce the first provisional dates for the Assembly elections, which would be a great incentive in terms of guaranteeing a "Yes" vote in these respective nations?

The Prime Minister

I am afraid that it will not be part of my official engagements today to consider how much time during the recess I propose to spend in the hon. Lady's beautiful country or, indeed, in my own country. If she offers to be my hostess, that might be an additional attraction. Indeed, I might even be able to convert more members of the Scottish National Party to vote Labour after I had been there. But I promise her that I shall continue to give my full attention, with other Ministers, to the affairs of both Scotland and Wales.

Mr. Watkinson

When my right hon. Friend meets the Queen today, will he discuss her proposed visit to Iran? Does he agree that a visit in anything like the circumstances which presently prevail in Iran would be entirely inappropriate? Does he agree that the Shah's regime should not be buttressed by a visit from the Queen until the Shah can show that he has the full support of the people of his country?

The Prime Minister

These arrangements are always announced some months in advance. If the situation in February, or whenever Her Majesty visits, is the same as it is now, of course I would certainly advise Her Majesty nut to proceed. But no visit by Her Majesty should be regarded as buttressing the regime. State visits of this sort or, indeed, semiofficial visits, take place as a matter of inter-State relationships and are not regarded as supporting a particular regime.

Mr. Pardoe

Has the Prime Minister taken careful note of the exact wording of the first seven Questions to himself on the Order Paper today? Does he not think that this part of Question Time has become somewhat farcical? Will he, therefore, start the New Year on a better footing by placing in the House of Commons Library a list of the Questions that he would like us to ask him?

The Prime Minister

That is a very novel idea. I can only say to the hon. Gentleman that, of course, I can rely upon myself to give very good answers but I cannot guarantee the quality of the Questions.

Mr. Stoddart

Will my right hon. Friend consider very seriously indeed the position in Iran? I really do think that the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and, indeed, the whole Cabinet should consider whether they ought now to change completely their policy towards the Shah and his regime, which quite clearly does not have the support of the people of Iran.

The Prime Minister

I note my hon. Friend's view, but I have nothing to add on this matter to what I have said so far. I do not believe that expressions of opinion from the Dispatch Box will aid the situation in Iran at present.

Mr. McCrindle

As the Prime Minister has today taken the unusual step of tabling a motion not for one but for two parliamentary recesses, will he give consideration to a still further innovation and table the date on which he will be prepared to face the electors of this country?

The Prime Minister

That is an interesting point. I have no doubt that it will all be brought out in the debate which I believe is due to begin in seven minutes time.

Mr. Ashton

Will my right hon. Friend take time to look at the situation in regard to the dispute with the National Union of Journalists? Is he aware that many local weekly newspapers in my part of the country are making very high profits, yet some young journalists are taking home as little as £31 and £35 a week? Will he pass on a message to the Nottingham Evening Post, which has sacked nine journalists for taking part in an official dispute, and tell it that we are living in 1978 and that we have a Trade Union and Labour Relations Act which really ought to be honoured?

The Prime Minister

I note my hon. Friend's views, but on this matter, as on many industrial questions, I do not believe that an exchange of views in the House is the best way of settling these issues. I think that the system we used to have some years ago, in which we did not ourselves embark upon these matters until it was quite clear that there was no prospect of solving them through the normal procedures of arbitration, conciliation or negotiation, certainly achieved better results than we seem to be getting now.

Q3. Mr. David Atkinson

asked the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 12th December.

The Prime Minister

I refer the hon. Member to the reply which I gave earlier to the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Montgomery).

Mr. Atkinson

Will the Prime Minister now tell the House with a clear "Yes" or "No" answer whether the Government will apply sanctions to the National Coal Board if it is forced to break the 5 per cent. pay policy?

The Prime Minister

It is a well-known rule in this House, although not always observed, that one does not reply to hypothetical questions.

Mr. Litterick

Will the Prime Minister find some time today to telephone President Ceausescu of Roumania in order that he might discover how the President managed to resist Warsaw Pact pressure to increase his country's armaments expenditure so that we in our turn might be more successful in resisting NATO pressure to increase our armaments expenditure?

The Prime Minister

That is a most ingenious addition to my responsibilities for the day. If I carry out all that has been suggested, I shall not have very much time left. Of course, my hon. Friend will recall that the basis of President Ceausescu's approach, as far as I can see, is that the Warsaw Pact already has sufficient armaments. What we must take into account is the fact that the armaments of the Warsaw Pact, especially in the theatres in Central Europe, exceed those of the NATO powers, and this is an important consideration when we consider the appropriate level.

Mrs. Thatcher

The Prime Minister will be aware that his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy has been calling for substantial measures of further nationalisation, for cutting tax relief on mortgages, for further State control of pension funds and for the abolition of the House of Lords. Since the Prime Minister, in one of his rare flashes of candour, has already revealed that he is all in favour of abolishing the House of Lords, will he say which of the other proposals he supports?

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Lady, as usual, is totally expected. I rather fancied that she would not be able to resist that kind of temptation. With regard to these matters, I am open to advice from any quarter, including even the right hon. Lady herself. I get editorial advice from the Conservative newspapers every day and from the Morning Star. I am very ready to consider good advice from any quarter, but, if the right hon. Lady really wants to know about these matters, I suggest that she gets Conservative Central Office to write to Transport House and she will no doubt get her answer.

Mrs. Thatcher

Is the Prime Minister aware that his non-answer was totally predictable? Is he also aware that it is difficult to escape the conclusion that the only real difference between himself and his right hon. Friend is that his right hon. Friend is prepared openly to discuss the objectives of the Labour Government whereas he wishes to conceal them?

The Prime Minister

If both the answer and the question were predicted, it was hardly worth while having either. Although the right hon. Lady may think it important to try to discuss party manifestos across the Floor of the House, when they are ready they will be published. I seem to remember that she had some similar embarrassment—is that the word?—when the proposals of the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) were leaked to The Economist the other day and were denied. So far as I can see, the only difference is that the hon. Gentleman's proposals went to The Economist and ours apparently went to the Morning Star.

Mr. Bryan Davies

As my right hon. Friend has recently been improving his gunnery practice, when will he turn the howitzer of a radical Labour Party manifesto upon the Conservative Benches?

The Prime Minister

That will appear in due course. Meantime, I suggest even to the right hon. Lady as well as to my hon. Friend that they should not believe everything they read in the newspapers. I know that this is something to which the right hon. Lady frequently falls victim, but I promise her that one day she will find that not everything—even in The Sun or the Daily Mail—is totally accurate.

Mr. Tom King

Does the Prime Minister realise that it is not sufficient to say that all will be revealed in the manifesto? The Secretary of State has, among other things, called for the nationalisation of the North Sea. This is already doing considerable damage to confidence and it is up to the Prime Minister to make the position clear.

The Prime Minister

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman knows that the 200-mile limit was agreed a long time ago. I assume that he meant nationalisation of North Sea oil. If that is the case, he will allow me to remind him that the country —thanks to a Labour Government and no thanks to his Government—are taking a very substantial proportion of the product of North Sea oil for the national benefit and will continue to do so. I hope that we shall continue to have his full support.