HC Deb 03 April 1979 vol 965 cc1158-63
Q1. Mr. Gordon Wilson

asked the Prime Minister, if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 3 April.

The Prime Minister (Mr. James Callaghan)

This morning I attended a memorial service for Sir Richard Sykes. In addition to my duties in the 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. Wilson

In view of the promise made by the Government at the last election that Scotland would get a special share of the oil revenue, what excuse does the Prime Minister have to offer for the fact that, in the past five years, unemployment in Scotland has drastically increased and his proposals in the public expenditure White Paper show that Scotland will get a reduced share of public spending over the next five years?

The Prime Minister

Unemployment in Scotland went up after 1974, but I am glad to say that as a result of Government measures and our success in economic policy, it is going down and has been falling steadily for some time. For example, the number of school leavers out of work has declined substantially. As regards financial aid to Scotland, it is well known that Scotland has enjoyed considerable financial assistance—and the hon. Gentleman's constituency has benefited substantially.

Mr. Watkinson

Has my right hon. Friend noted the view of the City that, in the unlikely event of a Tory victory in the election, cuts in public expenditure will fuel a boom in the price of land and shares? Can my right hon. Friend see any merit in cuts in the social wage in order to fuel a speculators' bonanza?

The Prime Minister

That is clearly one of the issues which will be debated substantially during the next few weeks. However, I do not think that memories are so short that people will have forgotten the property boom that was stimulated during the period of the last Conservative Government and the consequences that flowed from that, especially as the Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer at the time allowed the money supply to get uncontrollably high.

Mr. David Atkinson

Will the Prime Minister take time today to go into the Library and read page 505 of volume 6 of the "Collected Works of Marx and Engels" where he will see a list of the 10 preconditions necessary for any country to be ripe for a Communist takeover, seven of which have already been satisfied in this country, largely through his Government's policies? Will he give a pledge to the country and the House that he will support the next Conservative Government in reversing that trend?

The Prime Minister

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on getting as far as page 505. I wish that his question had shown a more percipient understanding of the erudite conclusions reached by Karl Marx, some of which are apposite in the present state of development of our world.

Mrs. Hayman

Will my right hon. Friend find time to send congratulations to British Aerospace on its part in the new Airbus order announced today? Will he also take the opportunity to reaffirm the Government's support for the civil airframe industry, including the Airbus and the HS 146—support that aircraft workers know only too well would not be forthcoming from a no-grants, no-subsidies, no-interference Conservative Government?

The Prime Minister

It was a decision by the Government to maintain a high-level aircraft industry in which technological achievement should grow. The hon. Member for Christchurch and Lyming- ton (Mr. Adley), who is interrupting from a sedentary position, was one of those who invited me to spend public money on this matter. It is important to the Government and myself, and, I believe, to the country, that the British aircraft industry should be sustained at a high level. The success of Rolls-Royce in the United States and British Aerospace with the Airbus in Europe are welcome manifestations of that.

Q2. Mr. John Hunt

asked the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 3 April.

The Prime Minister

I refer the hon. Member to the reply which I have just given to the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson).

Mr. Hunt

As the Prime Minister has apparently been spending a great deal of time in the last day or two on the preparation of his election strategy, will he let us into the secret of how he proposes to persuade the British electorate that on jobs, prices and taxes, another Labour Government are likely to be any more successful than his failed and discredited Administration?

The Prime Minister

I will also explain to the British people, in the course of the short commercial break we will experience over the next few weeks, that the Conservative Opposition have fought against every effort to save jobs, that they have fought against every attempt to retain the Price Commission and to keep prices down, and that they have shown an irresponsible attitude to pay claims and to pay settlements. In the last few days, they have shown signs, through the speeches of the Shadow Foreign Secretary on the common agricultural policy, on their attitude on old-age pensions and on their attitude towards child benefit this afternoon, of becoming a "Me, too" Opposition. That is what they will remain.

Mr. David Steel

Will the Prime Minister take time off today from being concerned with the Labour Party manifesto to look at the reports from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, about the incident there? Although we operate a different technology in this country, will he comment on the piecemeal approach to these issues that is pursued in Britain? Is he aware, for example, that the Secretary of State for Scotland has turned down a public inquiry into the Torness development while, at the same time, an inquiry is going on about the mining of uranium in Orkney for that development and that the same Minister who has to judge that matter is also the Minister responsible for power promotion? Will he try to end this piecemeal approach and secure a wide public and parliamentary debate on these issues?

The Prime Minister

The question of safety in nuclear installations is one that constantly concerns the Government. I have paid a considerable degree of attention to the matter. Last year, the House may recall, the Government placed two further orders for nuclear reactors, both of which were of the advance gas-cooled type—a different type from that found in Harrisburg. I believe that I can safely claim and reassure the public that the incident in Harrisburg could not take place in this country because of the different nature of the reactors. It is important that this should be understood. Indeed, we have been wise to concentrate on the safer advance gas-cooled reactors rather than the pressurised water reactors. Design studies are proceeding for the Harrisburg type of reactor, but we have not so far decided to place any orders for it. In view of the fact that we are to build two more AGRs, it will be two or three years before a decision needs to be reached.

I do not agree with the right hon. Gentleman's point about a piecemeal approach. These matters, including the problem of Torness, are considered carefully in the Cabinet. We try to take decisions that are related to safety on all occasions. We do not always succeed. I apologise to the House for taking so long to reply, but this is a serious and important matter. I think I can say that our record on safety is second to none in these matters. Although there is always the chance of the human element failing, there is no likelihood of an incident similar to that at Harrisburg.

Mr. du Cann

Is the Prime Minister aware that many Members of Parliament on both sides and all the commentators I have read believe that, in the long term, the interests of good administration and the dignity of the House will be best served if the Government of the day accept the report of the next Boyle Commission on Members' salaries. There is precedent for this action in the helpful decision of this Government and the Leader of the House in relation to the eighth report of the Boyle committee on Members' pensions.

As this is the last opportunity to question the Prime Minister in this Parliament, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman to spend time between now and the Dissolution consulting my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition with a view to accepting a firm commitment from the leaders of the main political parties to implement, without equivocation, the Boyle report when it comes, even if, in the interests of general Government policy, the implementation has to be phased, as the right hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. Hughes) and I have suggested?

The Prime Minister

We must admit that increases in our own salaries are the least popular issues in public estimation, but it should be pointed out that hon. Members have not taken the full increase to which they were entitled under the last Boyle report, and the recommendations have not been implemented. The House has kept strictly within the guidelines on this matter. That point should be made plain.

I have not yet received the Boyle report on its future recommendations. It must be left to the new Government, elected to the new Parliament, to reach conclusions on that report. I would be happy, of course, to have conversations with the Leader of the Opposition, if it was thought appropriate, to see how the issue can be handled.

Mr. Michael Stewart

Will my right hon. Friend give particular attention to the point raised by the right hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann)? He will be aware that the problem for many hon. Members, particularly younger Members of this House, is serious and is growing in its seriousness.

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir. I hope that my previous answer indicated that I was aware of that. Without giving any pledge on the report, which I have not yet seen, I would certainly be ready to give full consideration to this matter. Members of Parliament should be remunerated properly, however unpopular it may be.

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