HC Deb 14 December 1978 vol 960 cc904-8
Q3. Mr. Budgen

asked the Prime Minister, if he will list his official engagements for the 14th December.

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.

Mr. Budgen

Will the Prime Minister find time today to confirm that after the two votes last night the Government will abandon the policy of unlawful sanctions against those on the blacklist?

The Prime Minister

I have been asked before about the sanctions being unlawful, but I have never heard it demonstrated that they are unlawful, nor have they been challenged in the courts. I assume that they would have been had they been unlawful. On the question of Government policy on this matter, if the hon. Member will wait a few minutes, I hope to say something more about it this afternoon.

Mr. Skinner

During the course of today or at some other time will my right hon. Friend investigate the Civil Service Department with regard to a letter which I sent to every Government Department asking to be told the number of Tories and Liberals in this House and outside who have quango appointments? Somebody in the Civil Service Department has sent me a letter—I think that it was "Deep Throat "—suggesting that all Government Departments should answer my letter by refusing to give the names of Tories, Liberals and others who have quango jobs. Will the Prime Minister put this matter right?

The Prime Minister

I shall consider whether my hon. Friend is being denied improperly any information to which he is entitled. He is quite right to draw public attention to the fact that, although the Opposition will pretend that only trade union secretaries are members of these very important bodies which are of great assistance in the public service, there are a large number of Liberals and Conservatives who also place their services at our disposal.

Mr. Andrew MacKay

Does the Prime Minister appreciate that in last night's votes the House clearly showed that it did not approve of the policy of arbitrary sanctions? Will he make it clear to the House this afternoon that he considers this policy to be immoral blackmail, which is quite intolerable?

The Prime Minister

I said last night that the Government would reconsider their policy in view of the verdict of the House. I shall have a little more to say on this later. We may even have more to say about it when we win the next General Election but I doubt whether the hon. Member will be here to listen to it.

Mr. Ashley

In the course of considering the two votes about which the Opposition are making such a great song and dance, will the Prime Minister bear in mind that, despite differences of opinion about pay policy, the whole of the trade union movement has wholeheartedly and categorically said that it will campaign for the return of a Labour Government?

The Prime Minister

Yes, I am in no doubt about that and neither is the country as a whole. My hon. Friend surely understands that the Opposition must get a little cheer now and again. We read from their own supporters that they are rattled about these matters and I am delighted that we were able to give them a little encouragement yesterday. But I promise them it will not go too far.

Q4. Mr. Nelson

asked the Prime Minister whether he will list his official engagements for Thursday 14th December.

The Prime Minister

I refer the hon. Member to the reply which I have just given to the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen).

Mr. Nelson

Will the Prime Minister take an opportunity today in his speech on the confidence motion to remind the House that the average household in this country is now paying more than two and a half times as much income tax as it was when his Government came to office? Does he really think that this is the way to win the confidence of the House or the public? What will he do about it?

The Prime Minister

That seems to be a matter of giving information and not asking for it. There are different interpretations to be put upon these issues. We could, of course, refer to the large increases in incomes that have taken place since the last election. Frankly, it has not been much use when prices have gone up just as fast. That is why I would like a little support from the Opposition now and again in our efforts to overcome inflation.

Mr. Raphael Tuck

Will the Prime Minister take time off to try to drum into the heads of the CBI that one cannot raise prices and at the same time hold down wages, and to drum into the heads of the TUC that one cannot raise wages and at the same time hold prices down? The sooner both parties appreciate the realities of the situation, the better off we all shall be. Is that not what the 5 per cent. guideline is all about?

The Prime Minister

I seem to be in midstream between an inquest on last night's votes and a foretaste of what I propose to say this afternoon. I agree with my hon. Friend that the whole question of the 5 per cent. is not an end in itself. It is a means of ensuring that inflation does not get out of hand and return to the levels of earlier years, even though we do not get much support when we adopt measures to that end.

Mr. Onslow

The Prime Minister said that he has the united support of the trade union movement. Is he really proud to have the support of the National Union of Public Employees?

The Prime Minister

NUPE, like many other unions, is affiliated to the Labour Party and we are happy to have support from all those unions. The policy of that union in relation to a particular dispute—assuming that the hon. Member's snide remark refers to certain difficulties in hospitals—has been condemned by the Secretary of State for Social Services. I hope that hon. Members will not condemn the whole union for the action of some of its members.

Mr. Christopher Price

Is the Prime Minister aware that a policy of sanctions has many applications? If it were applied to the application of planning agreements and to conformity with the Race Relations Act, for example, it might have greater support on this side of the House in regard to pay policy as well.

The Prime Minister

I am not sure about arguing by analogy on these matters. Each issue must be judged on its merits. I hope that there would be general agreement in the House that those who offend against racial equality and break the law should be visited with the utmost sanction.

Q5. Mr. Dykes

asked the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 14th December.

The Prime Minister

I refer the hon. Member to the reply which I gave earlier today to the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen).

Mr. Dykes

Since the Prime Minister is apparently pessimistic about tonight's result, as it is rumoured that he is packing his luggage at No. 10 today, will he in advance and ex post give the principal reason why he lost the 1979 General Election?

The Prime Minister

The hon. Gentleman has now turned into an astrologer. I hope that his forecasts are incorrect.

An hon. Member

The hon. Gentleman is not a very good clairvoyant.

Mr. Mikardo

What a twittish question.

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend is quite right, although I hesitate to repeat his elegant language. I also wonder why I bother with such twittish questions.

Mr. Ashton

Will the Prime Minister find time to look at the BBC proposals to switch off late night programmes because of an industrial dispute and put a placard on the screen saying that this is the fault of the Government and their pay policy? Does he realise that this would be as damaging to a Labour Government as switching off television during Christmas 1973 was to the previous Conservative Government? The BBC and the staff have virtually agreed on 7.8 per cent., which merely keeps pace with inflation, and it is ridiculous to promise sanctions against the BBC and insist on bringing in the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service when there is no dispute. This would only rebound on the Labour Government at a very tricky time.

The Prime Minister

I must say that I am not a connoisseur of late night programmes. I think that all good people should be in bed by 11 o'clock at night. [An HON. MEMBER: "Tell that to Michael."] I cannot understand the ribaldry of the House on this serious matter. I shall not have time to go into the BBC wage claim today, but it must be conducted through the usual channels—the House is also a little slow this afternoon. The Government cannot intervene in these matters of pay policy to exceed the guidelines that they have laid down.

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