HC Deb 02 February 1978 vol 943 cc686-90
Q2. Mr. Robinson

asked the Prime Minister if he will list his public engagements for 2nd February.

The Prime Minister

This morning I presided at a meeting of the Cabinet. I also attended a memorial service for Senator Hubert Humphrey. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall be holding further meetings with ministerial colleagues and others.

Mr. Robinson

Nevertheless, will my right hon. Friend find time to have a short word with Mr. Michael Edwardes, Chairman of British Leyland, and extend a warm welcome to his new organisational proposals and the sense of leadership which he has given to the company? Will he also tell Mr. Edwardes that the real test of his leadership and the basis on which he can ask this House for support will be his ability to obtain and sustain the co-operation of the work force?

The Prime Minister

I hope that everybody was encouraged by yesterday's reports of the meeting, in which Mr. Edwardes seemed to have gained an overwhelming amount of support. What is now needed, as my hon. Friend says, is a sustained and united effort to ensure that the feeling that was engendered yesterday is not allowed to fall away. I believe that Mr. Edwardes is fully aware of the necessity to carry the work force with him.

Mr. Donald Stewart

Will the Prime Minister take time to have discussions with his Cabinet colleagues to redress the subversion of the Scotland Bill that took place last week, the necessity for which provision is essential for the Bill and therefore the existence of the Government? Is he aware that the new 40 per cent. requirement in the referenda shows that Scotland voted against the Common Market. Therefore, what arrangements will he make to take us out?

The Prime Minister

I shall consider all these matters, but I think that the right hon. Gentleman will probably want to wait until Report, when the whole issue can he debated again.

Mr. Fitt

Will the Prime Minister take the opportunity some time today to comment on the statement made yesterday by the Shadow spokesman for Northern Ireland which has led to the breakdown in the bipartisan approach which has existed for many years? Is it still the Government's intention, irrespective of the conclusions that may be reached by the Conservative Opposition, to continue to pursue a just and acceptable political institution in Northern Ireland which will improve the whole community?

The Prime Minister

I have noticed recently that there are some issues in which the Opposition seem desirous of ending what should be a national approach to some of these matters. In the case of Northern Ireland. I hope that a national approach can be sustained and maintained as it has during the last seven years. What seems to me to be important is that in any arrangements for a future administration or Government of Northern Ireland all communities should have a feeling of fully sharing in that administration or Government, otherwise we shall be back to the situation that existed before 1970.

Mr. Dykes

Will the Prime Minister come back to the previous issue and to the totally unauthorised policy of having a black list of firms in respect of pay policy? Will he answer the following questions? How many firms have been blacklisted? What is the Department of Employment's policy on this matter? Finally, how many more firms will be blacklisted, and when will the Government issue a clear statement on the subject?

The Prime Minister

There is a regular Question Time directed at my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade, and I suggest that these Questions should be tabled in detail for him to answer. I did not discuss this matter with the CBI in relation to the previous Question. It is not on the list of my public engagements for today, and I have not come here with any information on this matter.

There is no secret about this issue. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Well, if there is a secret, it seems to be a damned badly kept one. When I listen to reports on the radio of the unholy alliance between Lord Aldinaton and Mr. Clive Jenkins, I begin to think that the Government must be right on some of these issues.

Q3. Mr. McCrindle

asked the Prime Minister if he will state his public engagements for 2nd February.

The Prime Minister

I refer the hon. Member to the reply which I have just given to my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, North-West (Mr. Robinson).

Mr. McCrindle

If I may return to the question to which my hon. Friends have paid attention, if a black list were to exist, what would be the legal basis for its continuation? Secondly, will the Prime Minister say why the Sun Alliance and London Insurance Group should not take a perfectly reasonable management decision to improve the basis of its employees' pensions?

The Prime Minister

Any question that begins with the words "Were a black list to exist" is clearly hypothetical. Therefore, I am not called upon to reply to it.

As for the Sun Alliance, I understand that it is proposing to challenge the secret report which has apparently been made and which is so well known to at least two of the directors of that company who sit in this House. Therefore, I have a feeling that any misdeeds that are likely to come out will be quickly made known to the Shadow Cabinet through the directorship of the right hon. Gentleman who sits on the Sun Alliance board.

Mr. Kinnock

On the subject of both the bipartisan approach and a black list, will my right hon. Friend undertake consultations with the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition to discuss why she appears to be preventing any remnants of progressive opinion in her party from sitting on the all-party joint committee against racialism? This is a matter of blacklisting that is of some concern to people in this country.

The Prime Minister

I can only admire my hon. Friend's ingenuity, which is now called parallel thinking, but I have no ministerial responsibility for any of the Shadow appointments made by the right hon. Lady.

Mr. Stanbrook

On the question of a black list, is not the truth of the matter that the Prime Miinster knows that sanctions against these firms are quite unlawful and that it only requires a firm with the courage to take the Government to court to bring the whole ramshackle edifice down in ruins?

The Prime Minister

There cannot be much of an edifice when we consider the handful of firms that are involved out of a total of 600,000 active companies. I do not want to engage in a discussion on semantics involving the question whether a list is black, but on the issue itself I hope that the Opposition and those who may be considering taking the Government to the law on this matter will also consider the impact if wages embark on a runaway race once again, with the resulting inflation, which we have now so painfully overcome. Perhaps those Conservative Members will consider that aspect of the matter, because I assure them that that is what the public are concerned about.

Mr. Norman Atkinson

In regard to that answer, however, and to the Prime Minister's previous answer with regard to British Leyland, is my right hon. Friend aware that part of the Edwardes plan involves the synchronisation of wage bargaining, much of which cannot be enacted until after 31st July this year? Therefore, will my right hon. Friend appeal to his colleagues in the Cabinet to desist from their repetitive comments about the need for a wage policy after 31st July which, of necessity, must interfere with the Edwardes plan of free bargaining for Leyland, which is now to be concluded?

The Prime Minister

I am aware that many hon. Members dislike any process of discussing wages and their future. Let me make it abundantly clear to the House and to the people of this country that in the manner in which our industrial society is now composed and conducted it is impossible to discuss any future economic progress in this country without discussing—

Mr. Ridley

Come off it. Rubbish.

The Prime Minister

—what role wages and incomes are to play.

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