HC Deb 06 February 1979 vol 962 cc200-3
Q1. Mr. John Hunt

asked the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 6 February.

The Prime Minister (Mr. James Callaghan)

In addition to my duties in this House I shall be holding meetings with ministerial colleagues and others.

Mr. Hunt

Will the right hon. Gentleman be taking the opportunity today to clear up the confusion that has been created in local government circles and within his Cabinet following his ambiguous remarks at the weekend on local authority pay settlements? Has he seen that Mr. Alan Fisher has already interpreted that speech as giving the green light for settlements up to 14 per cent Is that so? If not, will he repudiate Mr. Fisher and give a firm pledge of his full support to local authority employers who will be standing firm against unreasonable and inflationary demands of that sort in the interests of their ratepayers?

The Prime Minister

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for asking me about that. I am sorry if my remarks on Saturday led to any confusion. They were intended to be a clarification on a firm basis. It is not the first time that that sort of thing has gone adrift. I said and meant that the Government have told the employers that they are prepared to finance their share of an offer of 8.8 per cent. through the rate support grant. I wish the House to know exactly what was in my mind when I went a little further. As an old negotiator I know that sometimes—[Interruption.] Hold it. We are talking about serious matters. I know that another 0.1 per cent. or 0.2 per cent. may bring a settlement that otherwise would not be achieved. A margin is needed at the negotiating edge. That is what I meant. Unfortunately, that is not what was interpreted. Some seemed to think that the sky was the limit. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me the opportunity of making that clear.

Mr. Arthur Latham

Does my right hon. Friend agree that events now would seem like a holiday compared with what would occur if the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition and her friends inside and outside the House took over? Will he acknowledge that low-paid public service workers started a campaign months ago, held meetings, demonstrations, marches and even a lobby of Parliament? Does he agree that it appears that meaningful notice was not taken until they went on strike? Is not that a sad state of affairs? Cannot we have some early warning system and cannot notice be taken of these issues long before matters come to a head?

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend foreshortens history a little. He will remember that I said at the Labour Party conference that, in view of what had been said at conference and elsewhere, there was a case for reviewing the special position of the low-paid. It was in January, long before there was action, that the Government came forward and said that they thought that there should be a special position for the low-paid. The main element of that was an underpinning, which could be consolidated both into the bonus and overtime rates, of £3.50. It is not right to say that we waited for industrial action before an improvement was made. It is that that helps to make up the 8.8 per cent. to which the hon. Member for Ravensbourne (Mr. Hunt) referred.

Mr. Charles Morrison

The Prime Minister was reported as saying in his speech on Saturday that no one should be reluctant to put forward new ideas or even ones that had been considered previously and rejected. When he said that, did he have in mind Cmnd. 3888 entitled "In Place of Strife". If not, what did he have in mind?

The Prime Minister

I did not have a particular Command Paper in mind. There are a number of ideas that have been discussed in the past and rejected that in view of the present situation may be revived. At present we are engaged in some useful talks with the trade unions. It is important that they should have the opportunity of commenting on some of the ideas. Let us see what emerges from that. I am not without some hopes of advance.

Mr. Pardoe

Will the Prime Minister take time today to discuss with his colleagues the question of the by-election at Liverpool, Edge Hill, and its date? Does not he think it is time that the voters of Edge Hill had a democratic representative in this House, especially bearing in mind the serious economic problems facing that constituency? Now that the dirty tricks department of the Labour Party in Liverpool has failed so miserably there is no excuse for delaying the by-election any longer.

The Prime Minister

There is a convention in the House under which these matters are dealt with. I do not propose to depart from it.

Mr. Alan Lee Williams

Could my right hon. Friend, in spite of his current difficulties, spare time from his engagements today to plead for the life of the former Prime Minister of Pakistan, Mr. Bhutto? Does he not agree that it would be tragic indeed if Pakistan fell apart in civil war?

The Prime Minister

Sentence was passed on Mr. Bhutto in March. After my visit to Pakistan last January and in view of my personal relationship with General Zia, I had personal correspondence with him on this matter, which has since continued. Today I have officially made representations to General Zia—I am sure that he will understand why—that he should as an act of clemency spare the life of Mr. Bhutto. General Zia is a wise man. The consequences of clemency will be more beneficial to his country than carrying out the strict application of the law.

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