HC Deb 16 February 1978 vol 944 cc656-60
Q1. Mr. Hoyle

asked the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for 16th February.

Mr. Walter Johnson

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

Is it about a Question?

Mr. Johnson

My point of order, Mr. Speaker, is that there are 15 Questions to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister asking him to list his official engagements for 16th February. Surely that is ludicrous. May I ask you to discuss the matter with those concerned?

Mr. Speaker

Order. This matter is taking up the time for Prime Minister's Questions. I do not decide what Questions hon. Members put down.

The Prime Minister (Mr. James Callaghan)

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.

May I tell my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South (Mr. Johnson) that the reply will be the same to all the other 15 Questions?

Mr. Hoyle

Will my right hon. Friend take time off to consider the tempory employment subsidy and the pressure being put on us by the Common Market? Will he tell the EEC that any proposal to vet each application is out, and that we want to preserve just as many jobs under any other scheme? Indeed, we want to continue the present scheme. If the EEC wants to take us to court, it will incur the wrath of the British people.

The Prime Minister

I notice that I am always being enjoined to take time off. I only wish that I could sometimes. [Interruption.] I am open to offers.

Mr. Tebbit

The right hon. Gentleman should try the Bank of Wales or Julian Hodge.

The Prime Minister

The hon. Gentleman has come alive again, has he?

As for the temporary employment subsidy, I am very glad to see that the European trade unions made a concerted protest to the Commission about these matters. Clearly, conditions that were devised at a time of pretty well world full employment, in the 1950s and 1960s, are not appropriate for the situation in which we and the rest of the world find ourselves today. I am sure that the Commission will take that matter into account, as Ministers certainly will.

Mr. Baker

In view of the difficulties that the Government are having in getting their legislation through the House in the way in which it was proposed to the House, may I make a helpful suggestion to the Prime Minister? Could he find time later this afternoon to appoint the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) as his Chief Whip?

The Prime Minister

I could think of many things to do with my hon. Friend. I understand that he has recently secured election in a ballot for the European Assembly.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

I bet it was rigged.

The Prime Minister

I agree that in this lively and self-assertive Parliament it is very difficult for Governments to get their legislation through. I do not know whether the character of Parliament is changing. If so, perhaps we had better move to a presidential system, in which case I might be a candidate.

Mr. Radice

Does my right hon. Friend agree that with over 16 million unemployed in the OECD countries, the results of last May's Downing Street conference have proved rather disappointing? Will he remind the German and Japanese Governments of their promises then to expand their economies and reduce their balance of payments surpluses?

The Prime Minister

The forecast for 1978 of growth in the major European countries, such as Germany and France, as well as in some of the other countries which were represented at the Summit, is not living up to the expectations that those Governments then had. This is having a serious impact on employment generally and on the levels of world trade.

I am certainly ready to join in further discussions on this matter, but we have to find a way of reconciling the clear and legitimate different objectives of Governments. One Government are concerned that inflation should in no circumstances occur in their own country. It is a perfectly legitimate objective. Another Government say "We must have faster growth." What we have to try to do as a group of nations is to synthesise the common objectives and get an agreed policy. There is no agreed policy now. I am bound to say, as I said yesterday, that unless the leading world nations agree on some policies for 1978, the figure of 16 million unemployed in the OECD will rise.

Mr. William Clark

I appreciate that the Prime Minister is extremely busy today, but will he try to find time later on to give instructions for the publication in the Official Report of the report from Mr. Speaker on Northern Ireland representation?

The Prime Minister

There is a usual formula under which the Leader of the Opposition tables a Question about these matters and I give the usual reply. I am sure that that will be followed on this occasion.

Q3. Mr. Canavan

asked the Prime Minister what are his official engagements for 16th February.

The Prime Minister

I refer my hon. Friend to the reply which I gave earlier today to my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Hoyle).

Mr. Canavan

At the Cabinet meeting, did my right hon. Friend make a statement about the Government's devolution proposals? Despite the fact that the enemies of the Scottish Assembly decided last night that their case was so weak that they had to give themselves a few goals start in the referendum campaign, does he agree that we can still win at the end of the day if we proceed with the Scotland Bill and hold the referendum before the next General Election?

The Prime Minister

I do not discuss the deliberations of the Cabinet. I usually wait to read them in the newspapers at the weekend. I am sure that the Lord President will have a very interesting announcement to make in due course concerning the business for next week. Let me say to my hon. Friend that of course we can win on this matter. There is no doubt about it. I believe that everyone will want to give the Scottish people the opportunity of deciding this issue for themselves.

Mr. Gow

Will the Prime Minister take time today to explain to the country why it is that tomorrow at noon the Sec- retary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection, the Minister of State and the Under-Secretary of State of that Department are holding a Press conference at the Labour Hall. 400 High Road, Ilford? Will he tell the House why that Press conference is not being held in London? Will he confirm that there will be no cost to public funds of exporting these Ministers to Ilford?

The Prime Minister

I am not sure whether everyone heard the address properly, but it is 400 High Road, Ilford. [HON. MEMBERS: "What time?"] I did not hear the time, but no doubt we can find that out. I suppose that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection will have a communication of public importance to state. Where better to state it than in the heart of an area like Ilford, which has strongly and consistently supported the Labour Government and will go on doing so?

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