HC Deb 30 January 1979 vol 961 cc1234-6
Q3. Mr. Iain MacCormick

asked the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 30 January.

The Prime Minister

This morning I presided at a meeting of the Cabinet. I also spoke at the lunch given by the Evening Standard for the winners of its drama awards—and a very agreeable occasion it was. I must say that I enjoyed the company there much better than I sometimes enjoy it here. It was much more receptive and appreciative than are the Conservative Opposition. In addition to my duties in this House I shall be holding further meetings with ministerial colleagues and others.

Mr. MacCormick

Bearing in mind the Prime Minister's obviously impossible position in dealing with the present situation in this country, will he turn his attention for a moment to Scotland? Because of the hurdles placed in the way of the coming referendum, largely by the Conservative Opposition and by some of his own rogue elephant colleagues, and because of the possibility of bad weather, will he look sympathetically at the possibility of holding the referendum over two days rather than just one?

The Prime Minister

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his suggestion. But I think we should perhaps proceed in the way that we have already decided, have the referendum on one day and hope that God will smile on Scotland and Wales on that day. As to the hon. Gentleman's sympathy with me about what he called the impossible task that I have today, a little historical perspective enables one to regard this with a certain detached philosophy and a great belief in the British people will enable us to come through.

Mr. Canavan

Will my right hon. Friend today find time to explain his earlier remarks about the demand by the Secretary of State for Transport for a statutory wage freeze? Does he agree that such a policy would attack the living standards of the lower paid and cause almost as much damage to trade union relations as some of the more irresponsible statements of the Leader of the Opposition? If collective responsibility is a good enough doctrine to silence or sack a Parliamentary Private Secretary, why is the Secretary of State for Transport still in the Cabinet?

The Prime Minister

On that basis, I sometimes think that I would govern alone, perhaps with one or two exceptions—and how much worse it would all be then. But seriously, I have nothing to add to what I have already said, which should satisfy my hon. Friend.

Mr. Pardoe

Will the Prime Minister be a little more specific about the reply that he gave to my right hon. Friend the Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel), when he said that he did not intend to introduce a wage freeze "at this time in the wage round"? Does he intend to introduce a wage freeze at a later time in the wage round? Does he recognise that if there is to be a wage freeze at all to save us from inflation, it had better be sooner rather than later, otherwise the going rate will be 20 per cent.? However, he can save the day now by introducing it now.

The Prime Minister

I said "not at this stage in the wage round" on the ground that a number of settlements have already gone through, and therefore it would be extremely unfair to say that, for example, local authority workers should have no increase at all. That was the significance of the words "at this stage". An offer has been made to local government workers of an increase—a substantial improvement in their low pay and a study of comparability, which they do not all understand. I agree that it is a little extraordinary that people should repudiate the idea of a norm when we have a new definition of "norm", which is the going rate. That is what the Government must set their mind against. I cannot explain in detail what the hon. Gentleman asks. I cannot be pinned down in this way.

If the House will permit me a little licence, it rather reminds me of what someone said would have happened if Sir Winston Churchill had made his speech on television about fighting on the beaches, and the interviewer had asked "Exactly which beach do you intend to fight on, Sir Winston?"

Mr. Rifkind

Has the Prime Minister studied the Attorney-General's statement that the present law on picketing permits what he describes as "lawful intimidation"? If the Attorney-General is correct, is this not overwhelming evidence that the present law on picketing needs changing?

The Prime Minister

I have studied the statement made by my right hon. and learned Friend. Although that statement aroused a certain amount of laughter, I could think of a perfect illustration of lawful intimidation. When the Leader of the Opposition threatened the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill) that he would lose his post if he did not walk through the Lobby, that was lawful intimidation.

Mr. Adley

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is a condition of employment to be regarded as lawful intimidation?