HC Deb 16 February 1978 vol 944 cc660-3
Q2. Mr. Gould

asked the Prime Minister when he next expects to meet the Trades Union Congress.

The Prime Minister

I refer my hon. Friend to the reply which I gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Radice) on 2nd February.

Mr. Gould

Will my right hon. Friend again congratulate the TUC on the part that the trade unions have played in the substantial and continuing fall in the rate of inflation? Will he also ensure that they are properly rewarded for their efforts with an exchange rate policy which does not fritter away North Sea oil revenues in a flood of manufactured imports?

The Prime Minister

As my hon. Friend knows, I have often paid tribute to the work of the trade unions in overcoming inflation. The exchange rate policy is in some ways a reflection of the international monetary system. As I said recently, it is hardly worth dignifying it at the moment with the word "system".

I assure my hon. Friend that it is more difficult to control exchange rates, either upwards or downwards, than he sometimes believes. What is quite true is that a stable exchange rate is undoubtedly best for our exporters, and some of them are meeting a certain amount of difficulty as a result of the appreciation of the pound and its strength.

Mrs. Bain

In his discussions with trade union representatives, will the Prime Minister deliberate on the fact that the Trades Union Congress in Scotland is today extremely angry about the unfair and iniquitous decision taken by the House last night on the Scotland Bill? Bearing in mind that we are now almost at the first anniversary of the collapse of the Scotland and Wales Bill, will the Government now make it an issue of confidence that the Scotland Bill is passed at its Third Reading in this House? Any failure to make this an issue of confidence will guarantee that the people in Scotland will put the blame fairly and squarely on the meek and undetermined stance taken by the Government.

The Prime Minister

The House of Commons took decisions last night, and although I am sure that the Scottish TUC, like other bodies, has views about them, it is the House of Commons that reaches a conclusion. Those decisions must be accepted by everybody. I hope that it will make the hon. Lady work harder in order to make certain that we get the majority that is required in the referendum to ensure that devolution goes through. That is the best line that we can adopt. As for votes of confidence, I resist the blandishments of the hon. Lady. I shall indicate to the House whenever there is a vote of confidence, and then she can have full pleasure in voting for us.

Mr. Buchan

I wonder whether my right hon. Friend will take time to look at the election manifesto of the Scottish National Party for 1974, in which he will discover that it not only invented the referendum idea but also invented the idea of a 40 per cent. vote. In addition, it extended the idea to make it applicable for voting in the Assembly.

The Prime Minister

I am very interested in this information and will, of course, have it checked immediately—not that I am doubting my hon. Friend's word. I suggest to the House, now that we have got so far in this matter and now that it is quite clear that the people of Scotland themselves will decide, that it really would be open to the gravest misunderstanding if the House were to deny them that opportunity next Wednesday.

Mr. David Steel

Does the Prime Minister agree that it would be a mistake to indulge in too much hysteria about last night's Division? Unfortunate though that decision was, is it not the case that at the end of the day, whether that motion was carried or not, the final say rests with the House of Commons? Is it not also the case that the referendum was always, and remains, consultative?

The Prime Minister

That is true. I am not sure in which direction the hysteria lies. I hope that I am not laying myself open to any charge of hysteria. I certainly do not feel that way. The referendum is, of course, advisory. On the other hand, I have always assumed, as a matter of common sense, that a clear decision by the people one way or the other would have very great influence in the House of Commons. I suggest to the House that our real task next Wednesday, having got so far after so many years, is to give the Scottish people the chance of declaring on this matter.

Mr. Hardy

In considering trade union and industrial matters this morning, did my right hon. Friend notice the news from the National Coal Board about improved coal production? If so, did that not lead him to reflect on the comparison between the position now and that which existed four years ago, when the right hon. Lady and her colleagues were last in office?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir. I read on the tapes, just before I came in here, that productivity has gone up very much during the last few weeks as a result of the arrangements that have been entered into. That is a very good start and I hope that it will be continued, because we need all the coal we can get.

Sir David Renton

When the Prime Minister next meets the TUC, will he assure it that our nationalised shipbuilding industry and our taxpayers' money will be used to meet the needs of the Royal Navy in future before supplying ships to Communist countries?

The Prime Minister

I do not understand the question, because there is no circumstance in which an order for a Royal Naval ship has been held up because of our exports. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows of one, perhaps he will let me know immediately.

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