HC Deb 28 February 1978 vol 945 cc233-9
Q1. Mr. Viggers

asked the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 28th February 1978.

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. Viggers

Will the Prime Minister. as part of his official duties, comment upon the continuing shameful unemployment figures? Is he aware that youth employment programmes and job creation schemes do nothing to solve the underlying problems creating unemployment? Does he accept that there is one thing that he can do to regenerate British industry and get people back to work, and that is to regard Thursday's by-election results as a vote of confidence?

The Prime Minister

The programmes announced today by the Manpower Services Commission are particularly important for all young people between the ages of 16 and 19, because the hope is that they will give either some form of training or further education to all young people who are unemployed beyond a certain period of time.

As I have often explained, it is the case that the Government have saved several hundreds of thousands of jobs, against the will of the Opposition, who have voted steadily against all the plans to help the shipbuilding industry and the textiles, furniture and clothing industries. That is not surprising because, as the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph) constantly tells us all rescues and subsidies are harmful. That is why, if there should ever happen to be a Conservative Government, unemployment in this country would certainly soar by at least 1 million.

Mr. John Garrett

Will my right hon. Friend spend some time today in preparing a speech on the benefits brought to our culture and our society by immigrants, recent or otherwise, and thus say something to allay the genuine fears of a community which has been made to feel most unwelcome by bigots and vote-catchers?

The Prime Minister

I had thought until a few weeks ago that it was generally agreed that the immigrants in our society had brought a great many skills, certainly in the 1950s and 1960s, when the Conservative Government encouraged coloured nurses to come here, as well as coloured bus drivers and coloured Underground drivers. Now, coloured doctors are here. I always thought that this was generally accepted. If it is not now accepted, let me utter one word of warning to anyone who wants to dispute it—those who sow the wind will reap the whirlwind.

Mrs. Thatcher

Will the Prime Minister use some of his time today to consult the Secretary of State for Industry and the Leader of the House to ensure that we have an early debate on the Select Committee's report on the British Steel Corporation? Is he aware that this industry is losing about £10 million a week, and that Parliament has a duty to debate as soon as possible the sum and also some of the judgments in the report?

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Lady has given me no notice that she was raising this question. I do not know why a simple statement of fact should give rise to such jeers from the Opposition. It does not, of course, arise out of my official engagements for today.

It so happens that I have gone into this question with some care. The Government are conducting a very deep review of the situation in conjunction with the British Steel Corporation and the trade unions. It is right that the House should have the opportunity of debating this matter. I suggest to the right hon. Lady that it would probably be more helpful to the House if she awaited our review, which will be completed certainly in time for a statement before Easter, although I doubt whether it will be in time for a debate before Easter.

However, we are talking about a very wide range of deep-seated problems. The Government will probably need to introduce a Bill in due course. If the right hon. Lady allows us to complete this review, I suggest that we could have a debate on the Bill or any other proposal, including the report of the Select Committee. I believe that that is the best way to proceed.

Mrs. Thatcher

We are also talking about the loss of £10 million a week, about the judgments in the Select Committee report, and about its recommendation that there should be a debate as soon as possible, preferably before the Minister's statement in March. These are all serious matters. I would have thought that both the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Industry would be anxious to have this debate as soon as possible. That is what I am asking for.

The Prime Minister

I assure the right hon. Lady that we are most anxious to have that debate in the House, because, in addition to all the issues that she has raised, we are talking about many tens of thousands of jobs and their future.

For that reason, as well as for the future viability and size of the industry, it is important to have a serious debate on the matter. Incidentally, I shall be interested to hear what the Conservative Opposition's view is about the size and structure of the steel industry.

Mr. Jay

Is my right hon. Friend aware that if the Conservatives were in power we would soon have no steel industry, no shipbuilding industry and no motor car industry?

The Prime Minister

I am obliged to my right hon. Friend, who is reinforcing a point that I have constantly made. If the policy of the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph) is carried out, the steel industry would be wound up next week.

Q2. Mrs. Bain

asked the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for 28th February.

The Prime Minister

I refer the hon. Member to the reply which I have just given to the hon. Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers).

Mrs. Bain

Bearing in mind the commitment in the British Labour Party's manifesto during the British General Election in October 1974 that Scotland would have a development agency receiving extra funds in order to reflect North Sea oil revenue, will the Prime Minister today take time to read the report published by the Scottish Council (Development & Industry) yesterday, which advocated that Scotland should have two and a half times its population quota from revenues because of the special needs of Scotland? In view of the hideous unemployment position, and the Government's statement that there would be no special oil fund for Scotland, can we expect, prior to the Garscadden by-election, an early reversal of the Prime Minister's own decision?

The Prime Minister

I have not read the report, but I did read the Press accounts in the Scottish newspapers this morning. They form part of my daily diet, especially on Question days. I remind the hon. Lady that the Scottish Development Agency has had an allocation for its budget of £200 million which can be raised by order to £300 million. The agency has already spent or committed £88 million. Between 56,000 and 65,000 jobs relating to North Sea oil have already come into play in Scotland. With regard to the future, what obviously has to be borne in mind is the benefit which Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom should receive from the oil bonus that is now coming.

Mr. Roy Hughes

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Government are duty bound, at this stage anyway, to honour the Beswick recommendations with regard to the steel industry and that any change in those recommendations must be by agreement between the Government, the British Steel Corporation and the trade unions involved?

The Prime Minister

I do not wish to comment on the Select Committee's report at this stage, because it is for the Government to prepare—as we shall—a proper reply to the Select Committee which pays due attention to these things, and to do it in a regular way, as we do with all Select Committees.

With regard to the future of what are called Beswick plants, I speak from personal experience in my own constituency, where a great many jobs are likely to go as a result of negotiations. If the Government had pressed the British Steel Corporation to adopt a process of closing down its plants without consultation and negotiation on which undertakings have been given there would be chaos in the steel industry today.

Mr. Cormack

Bearing in mind that this is the fourth anniversary of the Labour Government's accession to power—

Hon. Members

Hear, hear.

Mr. Speaker

Order. One minute's applause is enough celebration.

Mr. Cormack

Will the Prime Minister tell the Queen this evening how many of her subjects have gone "back to work with Labour"?

The Prime Minister

Yes. It is, of course, true that there are more people at work in manufacturing today than there were at the beginning of this decade. It is also true that there are a great many more people offering themselves for work than there were at the beginning of this decade or, indeed, in 1973. In case Conservative Members have not noticed the revolution, that is to say there are a lot more women offering themselves for work now than there were in those days. I ask the House to take this point seriously. I would be grateful if the Queen were not associated with this kind of question.

Mr. Kinnock

I am hardly known for my sycophancy on these matters, but may I commend the views of my right hon. Friend both in expressing the hope that there will be a comprehensive statement about the steel industry before Easter and in emphasising the fact that no changes can take place in that industry without consultation and, I hope, the full-hearted consent of the workers in that industry? Will he also accept that there is no solution to the problems of the industry in the views of people like the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition who believes that the only answer is to butcher it wholesale? Nor is there an answer among the ranks of those who believe that we can outlive the present crisis and have a viable steel industry without taking courageous decisions with regard to manpower and investment. The two run together. I realise that the Conservative Opposition are not interested—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman must be fair. There are only two minutes of Prime Minister's Question Time left.

Mr. Kinnock rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman is cutting out another question. That is what it amounts to.

The Prime Minister

Those of us who have followed the fortunes of the steel industry for many years have felt that one of the remarkable changes has been the estimates about the production that was likely to take place in this country. I have seen a great many figures bandied about with regard to countries like Korea and Japan, as well as many countries of the Third World, suggesting that the future of the steel industry in Europe in particular and in this country certainly is very different from what it was expected to be 10 years ago. Indeed, as my hon. Friend has said, a question which I hope will be taken seriously is what should be the proper size of the British steel industry, and what should be its future—or are we to take it that the Conservative Opposition want to wipe out the whole thing irrespective of the consequences?

Mr. William Clark

In view of the Prime Minister's claim that there are now more people in manufacturing than in 1974 will he be kind enough to say why production is lower than it was in 1974?

The Prime Minister

That is a consequence, as I have said so often at this Dispatch Box, of our low productivity [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] The Opposition really are like a rather backward class on occasions. I am only quoting from "The Right Approach", which is the Bible of the Opposition. However, they may be in such a silly, giggly mood that they will laugh at anything. It is well known that, as "The Right Approach" said, for 30 years our productivity has lagged behind. It is not a matter with which the Government can concern themselves directly. But through the industrial strategy, with the wholehearted aid of the CBI and the TUC and against the constant derision of the Opposition, people are at work every day in the factories and trade unions to try to improve the situation, and God help us if the Conservative Party ever came to power and tried to reverse that.