HC Deb 11 May 1978 vol 949 cc1395-8
Q1. Mr. Joseph Dean

asked the Prime Minister when he next plans to meet the Confederation of British Industry.

The Prime Minister (Mr. James Callaghan)

I met representatives of the CBI on 6th February and further meetings will be arranged as necessary.

Mr. Dean

When my right hon. Friend next meets the leaders of the CBI, will he remind them of the substantial financial assistance that members of the CBI in Northern Ireland and Scotland receive from the Government? How does he relate this to the members of the CBI from those areas who this week have induced Unionist and SNP Members to vote against the Government in an attempt to wreck their financial and economic strategy? Is it not time that the situation in relation to these two areas of the United Kingdom was reviewed?

The Prime Minister

The people of both Scotland and Northern Ireland are very well aware of the importance and significance of public expenditure to support the superstructure of their economies. Certainly I shall remind the leaders of the CBI, and anyone else who wishes to be reminded of that fact, when I meet them, but I have a feeling that last night and on Monday some of the voting was not necessarily directed to the merits of the issue but was an attempt to pressurise—I would not want to use the word "blackmail"—the Government into making concessions that they would not otherwise make.

Mr. Pardoe

Is the Prime Minister aware that it is not only in the matter of taxation that the CBI wants an outbreak of parliamentary democracy and greater parliamentary control? Is he aware that the CBI is asking that this House should intervene on levels of pay in the future pay policy? What does the Prime Minister think about a Select Committee of this House on pay, as the CBI has suggested?

The Prime Minister

I can think of few worse things.

Miss Boothroyd

When my right hon. Friend next meets the CBI, will he ask for progress reports on the new code of conduct for British firms with subsidiaries in South Africa so that he might see to what extent those subsidiaries are implementing that code of conduct in order to bring about better employment procedures for black African workers there?

The Prime Minister

There has been discussion between the Foreign Secretary and other Ministers and the CBI on this matter, and I believe that a code of conduct has been agreed by the Council of Foreign Ministers of the European Community. I shall bring my hon. Friend's question to the attention of the Foreign Secretary so that this can be taken up with the CBI, if it has not been taken up already.

Sir David Renton

When the Prime Minister sees the leaders of the CBI, will he tell them how much longer he intends to govern or attempt to govern when he is unable to persuade the House of Commons to carry out the policy that has been decided upon by the Cabinet?

The Prime Minister

No. I think it quite improper to discuss that matter with the CBI.

Q3. Mr. Ward

asked the Prime Minister when he next plans to meet the Trades Union Congress and the Confederation of British Industries.

The Prime Minister

I met representatives of both the TUC and the CBI when I took the chair at a meeting of the NEDC on 1st February. Further meetings will be arranged as necessary.

Mr. Ward

Now that my right hon. Friend has had discussions with Chancellor Schmidt, what special measures will he be urging upon organised labour to contribute towards the problem of giving every unemployed man, woman and young person purposeful work, in view of the fact that the situation will be very difficult for several years to come?

The Prime Minister

This is a situation in which combined action by the European Governments, as well as an exchange of our experiences, would be extremely helpful. As the Chancellor told me, the situation in Germany is not good in terms of unemployment. It is likely to be difficult for all of us to return to full employment. I cannot give my hon. Friend a detailed answer in the space of a supplementary reply, but he is aware of the many measures that have been taken in this country and the similar measures that are being taken in other countries.

Mr. Tapsell

When the Prime Minister next meets the TUC and CBI, will he explain to them why, at a time when we have 1½ million people unemployed in this country, the Government have just introduced a Budget the immediate effect of which has been to force up interest rates very substantially, thus making it more expensive for industry to provide the new investment necessary to restore high levels of employment?

The Prime Minister

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman wishes to reverse the vote that he recorded last night. If he really believes what he has said, he should have been with us rather than with the Opposition. With regard to interest rates, I am always a little careful about pronouncing on the market. I stick to the general proposition that the market is not always right, and it may not be right on this occasion, either.

Mr. Canavan

In view of the concern of the trade union movement about the Lonrho bid to take over Scottish and Universal Investments, will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that the Government will not simply stand by and allow the job prospects of thousands of Scottish workers to be sold out to a multinational concern which is the subject of a Fraud Squad investigation because of alleged Rhodesian sanctions busting? Will my right hon. Friend, therefore, make sure that we have an early statement on this matter?

The Prime Minister

Concern in Scotland has been expressed to me about this proposed takeover. I think that I should leave it to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Affairs to consider whether this matter should be referred to the Monopolies Commission. I am sure that he will then make a statement.

Mr. Montgomery

When the Prime Minister does meet the TUC, will he be able to tell it how many snoopers he thinks will have to be recruited to investigate self-financing productivity deals?

The Prime Minister

No. We usually discuss serious matters.

Mr. George Rodgers

When my right hon. Friend meets the CBI, will he inquire why it is that senior members of that organisation persistently make pessimistic and melancholy forecasts about the future of British industry? Is not that surprising, in view of the concessions that have been made by this Government to the CBI's viewpoint? Is it not a fact that members of that organisation seem to spend half their time asking for Government financial support and the rest of their time resenting the intrustion by the Government into industry?

The Prime Minister

I have my criticisms of the CBI, and I dare say that the CBI has its criticisms of me. On the whole, I prefer to try to work with it rather than to attack it, because I believe that the future of British industry is vital to our economic prosperity as a whole. I shall, of course, miss no opportunity of asking the CBI to be less gloomy. But when the CBI talks to me, it seems to take the view that it is the media which are spreading gloom about our prospects. On ocasion the CBI asks whether we cannot do something about it. I always reply that this is a free country, as is well known.