HC Deb 25 May 1978 vol 950 cc1746-9
Q4. Mr. Stoddart

asked the Prime Minister when he last met the Confederation of British Industry.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Stoddart

Will my right hon. Friend comment on the hostile reaction of the CBI to the White Paper on industrial democracy? Will he tell the CBI that it would be serving the country much better if it educated its members in the need for more and better worker participation in industry and, further, that it should do its best to bring this about?

The Prime Minister

I was surprised at the reaction of the CBI, especially in view of the conversations that I have had with it and the fact that I have gone some way to meet what I thought were its genuine worries about this matter. I felt that its reaction was unnecessary and in contrast to what I thought was 45 minutes of very good questioning about this matter in the House of Commons. I would like to say to Conservative Members that I valued the nature of the questions, which were designed to try to put this matter on a proper basis. I hope that the CBI will reconsider its position, because we intend to press ahead with preparing legislation and, in the interests of its members, it should enter into constructive discussions with us.

Mr. Alexander Fletcher

In view of our important business interests in Africa, may I ask the Prime Minister to respond positively to Mr. Tindeman's proposal for European countries to operate a pan-African force to rescue British workers and others who may be the victims of Communist-inspired terrorism in Africa? Will he also seek to include Rhodesia in such a proposal?

The Prime Minister

I read Mr. Tindeman's remarks with considerable interest. There is a problem, in countries where there is not a settled Government, that should be the subject of discussion between the European nations, and I am sure that we should be glad to enter into such discussions to see whether arrangements can be made to safeguard the lives of our citizens on a joint basis. Indeed, I made such a remark when I was questioned by the Leader of the Opposition on Tuesday.

We must be careful about this, because the African countries concerned are clearly sensitive about these matters and it would have to be done in conjunction with them. I understand that in Zaire discussions have already begun about this. If we take the politics into account the answer is "In principle, yes." But we have to consider what the impact would be in Africa.

Mr. Flannery

Has my right hon. Friend noticed that there is a tendency, especially on the Opposition Benches, to talk about the CBI as though it is a philanthropic organisation? Has he also noticed that the CBI, in the minds of many people, is often linked with the TUC, as though these two organisations are not diametrically and fundamentally opposed to one another?

Will my right hon. Friend comment on the fact that, had the adherents of the CBI and the Opposition Benches had their way, over £700 million would have been taken out of the Budget in order to be poured into their pockets and the pockets of their friends, and that working people would have been put out of work as a result of this manoeuvre, if we had not resisted it to the best of our ability?

The Prime Minister

At the CBI dinner I ventured to make some comments in favour of public expenditure and the need for it. I was gratified at the response, but I could not help reflecting that the week before the CBI had circulated all Members of Parliament asking them to vote for reduction in taxation as well.

Mr. Peter Walker

As the Prime Minister is anxious to make progress in industrial democracy, and as the unions have a major part in that, does he believe that it is important that unions should have the most democratic system available to them? Will he encourage more of them to go over to a postal ballot system for the election of their officers?

The Prime Minister

The postal ballot system works well in many unions. I think it would be best if the House were to leave this to the unions to settle. I have had some experience of these matters, and I believe that it would be far better to do that. I hope that the House will detach itself as far as possible from interfering in the affairs of the unions, which are quite capable of dealing with their own affairs on these matters. That is the way in which I should like to see them proceed.

Mr. Neubert

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Will you explain why the Prime Minister on Tuesday refused to answer a question on Zaire which was posed by my hon. Friend the Member for Northwich (Mr. Goodlad) in relation to a visit to Tarporley, when the Prime Minister was prepared to answer a question today about Zaire in relation to the CBI?

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member for Romford (Mr. Neubert) could with justice have asked me why I did not pull up his hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, North (Mr. Fletcher) in the way that I pulled up his hon. Friend for Northwich (Mr. Goodlad) on that question. But the Prime Minister's answers are his responsibility.

The Prime Minister

There are times when I despair of ever achieving a sensible solution to this problem, but the way I look at it is this: if an hon. Gentleman tables a Question about Tarporley, I expect his supplementary to refer to that; I do not expect him immediately to refer to Zaire. After that, under your direction, Mr. Speaker, we seem to wander around the globe, and I feel that I have a responsibility to answer questions put, but not on the original Question.