HC Deb 12 June 1979 vol 968 cc232-4
Q5. Mr. Stoddart

asked the Prime Minister when last she met the Trades Union Congress.

The Prime Minister

I have not met the TUC but I met the general secretary on 31 May.

Mr. Stoddart

When the right hon. Lady meets the TUC, will she assure it that all the talk of confrontation was so much electioneering blather on her part and on the part of her right hon. and hon. Friends? Will she tell them that it is her intention, and the intention of her Government, to co-operate with the trade unions and seek the co-operation of the TUC and the Government, which proved to be so good for this country over the past four or five years?

The Prime Minister

I must point out to the hon. Gentleman that I talked not about confrontation but about a proper balance between power and responsibility, which is vital to the future of democracy. I stand absolutely on those statements. I believe that we shall receive the co-operation of the trade union movement. Without the votes of many trade unionists we should never have had such a large majority.

Mr. Mellish

That is absolutely right.

Mr. McCrindle

Would not the laudable objective to which the hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. Stoddart) has just referred be considerably advanced if the trade union leaders were prepared to accept that they cannot and should not stand in the way of the pursuit of policies upon which the Government were returned only a few weeks ago?

The Prime Minister

I do not believe that the trade union leaders will stand in the way of those policies. This country needs to raise productivity. For that we need to get rid of some overmanning and some restrictive practices. I hope that when people have the incentive to do so they will get rid of them, and that when we have top management once again we shall be able to make advances which will enable this country to compete on full and equal terms with our European competitors.

Mr. Wigley

When the Prime Minister meets the TUC, will she, in view of the petrol shortages and the increasing price of petrol, give an assurance that her Government will in no circumstances allow any railway lines to be closed?

The Prime Minister

I could not possibly give any such assurance, and I doubt very much whether the hon. Member expected me to give an unqualified, positive answer. I point out to the hon. Gentleman that the petrol shortages now are very small compared with those that we endured in January.

Mr. Mike Thomas

When the right hon. Lady meets the TUC, will she ex- plain to it her use of the English language in parliamentary answers to me? How is it that, in the matter of the advanced gas-cooled reactor turbine generator orders, she is able to say of the Think Tank that she has not received guidance from it, she has not received information from it, yet was able suddenly to discover yesterday that she has received advice from it?

The Prime Minister

Because between the hon. Gentleman's first question and his second question on this matter I received advice from it.

Mr. Marlow

Will the Prime Minister agree that the turnout for the European election was disappointing and that to a certain extent the European Parliament is on probation? Does she further agree that if, in five years' time, at the next European election, we do not have a better turnout, showing a greater interest by the British people, we shall have to consider afresh our relationship with our friends in the European Community?

The Prime Minister

I must be as candid with my hon. Friend as I was with the hon. Member for Cannock (Mr. Roberts). The answer is "No", but I think that the political parties may be able to increase the numbers voting at the next European election.

Mr. Thomas

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I hesitate to raise this matter on a point of order, but is it in order that the right hon. Lady should provide me with what I believe to be inaccurate information through the mode of both written and oral parliamentary answers?

Mr. Speaker

Order. The Prime Minister is responsible for her own answers. This is not the first time that hon. Members have not liked the answers which they have received.

Mr. Thomas

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am sure that your predecessor has not left the Chair deliberately. Is it not a matter of the greatest seriousness for the Chair and the House, not that I should receive a reply that I do not wish—of which I would not complain—but that I should receive an inaccurate reply?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bernard Weatherill)

Order. It is not for the Chair to give a direction on the kind of answers that Ministers give to questions.