HC Deb 20 March 1979 vol 964 cc1300-6
Q2. Mr. Loyden

asked the Prime Minister if he will list his engagements for Tuesday 20 March.

The Prime Minister

In addition to my duties in this 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. Loyden

Will my right hon. Friend give some thought today to the various meetings that he and other Ministers have had on unemployment, especially in the regions? Does he accept that Mersey-side workers—[Interruption.]—contrary to the views expressed by the Opposition Front Bench, are demanding more and not less Government intervention to deal with the problems that face Merseyside? Is he aware that in the private sector 14,000 jobs have been lost and that Government intervention is required to deal with regional unemployment?

The Prime Minister

The situation on Merseyside is rather different from that of the North-West as a whole. The Northwest is doing a remarkable job in diversifying its industrial structure. Merseyside is a challenge to everyone. It does no service to anybody to decry the position on Merseyside. The figures and studies show that productivity on Merseyside is not very different from that in the rest of the country. We should not give countenance to the damaging myths that are spread about the whole of Merseyside although the area does have special problems.

In taking up the challenge, especially in relation to public expenditure, I remind my hon. Friend that, in addition to the jobs that have been lost, about 44,000 jobs have been created or maintained by means of the Industry Act 1972, including valuable jobs produced by the GEC—Fairchild microelectronic industry that is being set up on Merseyside, the Schreiber furniture plant, Shell chemicals, fertilisers and the new Co-operative bank. All these organisations are bringing life to Merseyside, and that must be set against the industries that have gone.

Mr. Donald Stewart

Will the Prime Minister consider the story that is floating that the Government may attempt to deal with the Scotland Act by referring it to a Select Committee? Is he aware that any attempt to anaesthetise the issue in that way will be totally unacceptable to my hon. Friends and myself?

The Prime Minister

I do not bother myself with all the stories that float around on these matters. I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman waits until I make my statement.

Mr. Donald Stewart


The Prime Minister

In response to requests from other parties, I propose to make it on Thursday. If I were to correct every misleading story that I read in the press, I should never do anything else.

Mr. Mates

Will the Prime Minister find time today to talk to his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer about the effect that the civil servants' strike is having on some citizens? Is he aware, for example, that two old-age pensioner constituents of mine are unable to draw their premium bonds to meet bills which they entered into before the strike started? Is he aware that another pensioner is unable to cash her national savings to take a holiday for which she has saved for two years? Is not this appropriation of people's money by Government inefficiency the last straw? What will he do about it?

The Prime Minister

I have always regarded the strike as totally unnecessary, and I have said so. Those who go on strike do not receive pay while they are not performing their duties. That is the Government's responsibility. I understand that there has been a meeting today between the Lord Privy Seal and the Civil Service National Whitley Council and that negotiations will be resumed on Monday, when I hope that they may come to a conclusion. I say again that the new rates are not due to come into force until 1 April.

Mr. Norman Atkinson

As regards unemployment and trade generally, is my right hon. Friend aware that the labour content of our imports far exceeds the labour content of our exports? Although we may now be in surplus financially, we have a labour deficit. Therefore, will he institute an inquiry to ascertain how best we may bring about a labour balance in our overseas trade?

The Prime Minister

For the last quarter of 1978 our balance of payments was in substantial balance. I have no doubt that it will build up again in 1979. As for the labour content, by which I assume my hon. Friend means the amount of labour that goes into each unit volume of production, I am not aware of his figures. The figures are well worth studying. I am glad to say that Britain's share of world trade increased in 1977. We more than held our own. Despite a less rapid increase in the level of world trade, I believe that the same will be found to be true of 1978.


Mr. Madden

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will remember that on Question No. 2 my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Loyden) attempted to draw the attention of the House to the serious unemployment situation on Merseyside. He did so against a barrage of laughter and giggling from the Opposition Benches. Amidst that laughter a number of Government supporters heard a Member of the Opposition, when my hon. Friend referred to the workers on Merseyside, say that there were no workers on Merseyside. Will you, Mr. Speaker, reassure listeners to the debate, if no one else, that that slur on the working people of Merseyside came from a member of the Opposition?

Mr. Speaker

Order. I did not hear the remark.

Mr. Cryer

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will recall that my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Allaun), when putting a question, was interrupted by the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill) on a point of order. Very reasonably, you have always requested Members of Parliament to put points of order at the end of Question Time. The intervention was made in an attempt to suppress a piece of perfectly fair comment, which, fortunately, is free in the House and should be allowed without interference. Will you draw the attention of extremists such as the hon. Gentleman to the fact that Members of Parliament have a right to put a question, that points or order are normally taken at the end of Question Time, and that this is still a free Parliament, without extremism and suppression from the Right-wing minority in the Tory Party?

Mr. Speaker

Order. Only last week a Government supporter declined to accede to my request to put his point of order at the end of Question Time. I am pleased to say that the House responds overwhelmingly when I ask hon. Members to leave a point of order until after Question Time. That did not happen today and it did not happen last week. I hope that it will happen in future.

Mr. Frank Allaun

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I do not object to the remarks of my hon. Friend, in which he drew attention to the point that I made, but would it be right for hon. Members who want to raise a point of order merely to rise and indicate to you that at the end of Question Time they intend to do so? May I say that I am prepared to repeat what I have said—

Mr. Speaker


Mr. Allaun

—outside the House of Commons.

Mr. Speaker

I rose to intervene before the hon. Gentleman had finished, as I thought he wanted to repeat his remark inside the House and not outside. I apologise.

Q3. Mr. Michael Marshall

asked the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for 20 March.

The Prime Minister

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply which I have just given to my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Loyden).

Mr. Marshall

Whether the inflation figure be 9.6 per cent. or 13.3 per cent., does the Prime Minister accept that the figure is too high and is rising? Does he also accept that working through the pipeline is the effect of the road hauliers' dispute, during which lost orders and increased costs generally will increase the inflationary spiral? Are not the Government largely responsible as it was they who took off sanctions in that instance?

The Prime Minister

Now I know how history is made.

These are not my figures. I have referred to the official index. The figure of 9.6 per cent. comes from the official index that is used consistently by all parties on all occasions, and it has never been challenged. The hon. Gentleman knows the Government's policy on inflation. I much regret that the country did not follow the Government's advice that was offered last autumn, when we said that if everybody were willing to accept a 5 per cent. increase in earnings there would be no increase in inflation. Indeed, inflation would be going down now if that advice had been accepted.

Mr. David Steel

The Prime Minister referred to the Civil Service pay dispute. Is he aware that the bulk of the Civil Service in Scotland is proposing to withdraw its labour tomorrow? Is he also aware that he referred to an area of misunderstanding when he mentioned 1 April as being the starting date of the new pay round? Is it clear in the minds of civil servants, or have the Government made a statement to make it clear, that the result of the comparability study will take effect from 1 April and not from some future date?

The Prime Minister

I shall ask my noble Friend the Lord Privy Seal to consider that matter. However, there are still 10 days left in which to negotiate a settlement if the civil servants wish to do so. I understand that they are claiming, with some justification, that during the past two or three years their levels of pay have fallen behind the total emoluments received in private industry and that therefore they have a claim for a substantial amount. That must be worked out over the next 10 days. All I can hope is that if that is proved to be the case, and if there is a staged improvement, everybody else will not use it as another excuse to climb on the ratchet, to go up the escalator once more—and all the other similes that I can think of—which will lead to an increased inflation.

Mr. Grocott

Will the Prime Minister find time today to turn his mind from devolution and economic matters and consider what contribution the Government can make to the International Year of the Child? Will he bear in mind that repeatedly on Fridays in the House my Bill to end the caning of handicapped children has been blocked by Tory Members? Does he agree that this is a disgrace? Will he undertake, on behalf of the Government, to introduce legislation to end this abhorrent practice as soon as possible?

The Prime Minister

I could not give any undertaking to my hon. Friend on this matter. Private Members' time is basically for private Members.

There has been considerable Government activity on the general question of the International Year of the Child, with a great deal of voluntary help. I am glad to say that many activities are being conducted in the country. I am glad to say also that there is a great desire to help children in other countries who are less fortunate than our own.

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