HC Deb 29 March 1979 vol 965 cc616-22
Q1. Mr. Blaker

asked the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for 29 March.

The Prime Minister (Mr. James Callaghan)

This morning I presided at a meeting of the Cabinet and had an Audience of Her Majesty The Queen. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall be holding further meetings with ministerial colleagues and others.

Mr. Blaker

Will the Prime Minister take the opportunity today to reconsider his attitude on the question of observers for the Rhodesian election? It will not now be possible for any hon. Member seeking election to this House to attend as an observer in Rhodesia. Is it not important that some observers should be sent from this country, perhaps officials or those from other walks of life, so that advice can be offered to the incoming Government?

The Prime Minister

It is clear to the hon. Gentleman that most hon. Members will be rather busy at that time. Of course, anyone else is free to go and the Government will be willing to facilitate such arrangements. Such persons would have to go under careful auspices for a number of reasons, including personal safety and security. That should be borne clearly in mind.

Mr. Noble

When my right hon. Friend speaks to the nation will be draw particular attention to the industrial policies spawned by the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition and the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph)? Will my right hon. Friend point out to the nation that, should those policies ever come to fruition, they will lead to the destruction of industries, which have served and are serving the nation well, and to unemployment on a massive scale?

The Prime Minister

There will be a clear issue in the forthcoming discussions, which, apparently, have already begun, as you remarked, Mr. Speaker. As to the attitude that we should take on industrial matters, I have no doubt that a system of co-operation is better than one of confrontation.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

I should like to return to the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Blaker). Will the Prime Minister tell the House how he will assess the success and fairness of the Rhodesian elections if observers are not sent? Will be not be honest with the country and go from office with some credibility in dealing with foreign affairs by admitting that the Government should send some form of observer force to Rhodesia to oversee the elections?

The Prime Minister

The Government have taken the decision that they will not send official observers. Our diplomats are available and have been in Salisbury in recent days. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to volunteer, no doubt he will do so. For the Government to assume the responsibility of sending observers would, in our judgment, make it extremely difficult for us to act in a mediatory capacity afterwards and to help bring peace, in view of the attitude that has been taken towards those elections by those who are now fighting outside the borders of Rhodesia.

Mr. Spearing

In the course of a busy day, will the Prime Minister take time to go to the Library and look at the EEC Court ruling of November last, concerning the ownership of nuclear material in this country? Is my right hon. Friend aware that the implications of the judgment are that the Commission lays claim to ownership of all nuclear material in this country'? Does my right hon. Friend agree that the long-term protection is an amendment to the European Communities Act 1971. But, as short-term protection against the supine attitude to the EEC of leaders of the Conservative Party—both present and past—does he not agree that the country needs the protection of a Labour Government at the next election?

The Prime Minister

The treaty contains provisions about the possibility of plutonium passing into the hands of the Commission. Let me state clearly that that would be totally unacceptable to the Government—both the possession of the plutonium and the protection of it, which is of the most vital importance. It should be kept in our hands. I am certain that France, the other nuclear power which is also a member of the Community, would not agree to that either.

Q2. Mr. Viggers

asked the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 29 March.

The Prime Minister

I refer the hon. Member to the reply that I have just given to the hon. Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Blaker).

Mr. Viggers

Is the Prime Minister aware that one group that will contemplate his departure with particular pleasure is our Armed Forces? Having signally failed to do justice in Service pay when he should have done, does the right hon. Gentleman think that the Labour Party will reappraise the situation, particularly bearing in mind the imminent election and the marginal constituencies of Rochester and Chatham, Plymouth, Devonport and Portsmouth, North?

The Prime Minister

I fully realise that electoral matters are at the top of the hon. Gentleman's mind, but we have made clear our position and policy on these issues and we intend to stick to them. We rely on the good sense of the country in these matters. If either side were to engage in a Dutch auction in giving excessive and unjustifiable wage increases to those who demand them, the future of this country would be very bleak. If we had been willing to do that, we would not, perhaps, be having some of the industrial troubles through which we are passing.

Mr. Ashton

Will my right hon. Friend find time today to consider the Opposition's attitude to the Civil Service strike? Is he aware that the Leader of the Opposition has not been calling civil servants thugs or bully boys or saying that they are holding the country to ransom? Could that be because she thinks that most civil servants vote Tory or live in marginal constituencies? Does my right hon. Friend agree that if the right hon. Lady gets to be Prime Minister she will bring in such huge public expenditure cuts that most of them will not have a job anyway?.

The Prime Minister

I regret very much the industrial disruption taking place in the Civil Service. I understand that an offer was made which was unacceptable because it is much below the assessment that the unions place on the result of the exercise in comparability. The Cabinet considered the matter this morning and we are ready to make a further offer to the Civil Service unions which will be more in accordance with what we think is appropriate, although I think that it will be far less than the unions are demanding. Of course, if Conservative Members would like the strike to continue—and perhaps they would—no doubt they will say so.

Mrs. Thatcher

As the Prime Minister mentioned his dislike of Dutch auctions in connection with what may occur during the next three or four weeks, may I make quite clear that we shall honour the pension commitments that he announced yesterday?

The Prime Minister

I am grateful for the right hon. Lady's support. It will make the passage of our Finance Bill after the election that much easier.

Mr. Heffer

As the right hon. Lady has said that she will honour pledges, will my right hon. Friend spare a moment to think about the statement of the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph) that Merseyside has no special problems, even though the Government made it a special development area? May we therefore assume that the status of Merseyside as a special development area, with grants and assistance for industry, will be withdrawn if the Conservative Party wins the next election—which it will not anyway?

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend need not worry unduly. I do not think that the Conservative Party will be in a position after the election to help or to hinder in this matter. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for drawing to my attention the fact that one of our newest hon. Members, the hon. Member for Knutsford (Mr. Bruce-Gardyne), in an interesting article in The Daily Telegraph today has told us that if, by chance, the Conservative Patry were returned to power, it should get rid of regional development grants, aid to industry, index-linking for old-age pensions and a great many other measures. The right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition has gained an important recruit to her cause and one with whom, no doubt, she finds herself in great sympathy.

Mr. Dykes

Is it true that along with his many other meetings today, the Prime Minister is to have a meeting with his colleagues to admonish them for singing "The Red Flag" last night, since that ultimately reminds us all of what the Labour Party is really about?

The Prime Minister

The hon. Member for Shrewsbury (Sir J. Langford-Holt) will remember that when I first came into the House in 1945, that anthem rang round the rafters of the House. Somehow the building still stands firm and secure.

Mr. Mellish

My right hon. Friend will probably be discussing some time today the allocation of television time during the forthcoming election campaign. May I plead with him not to be difficult but to ensure that the Leader of the Opposition is given every opportunity to appear on television so that the public outside can have a sample of the rubbish that she usually talks here and see the right hon. Lady for what she is really worth?

The Prime Minister

My right hon. Friend is always robust in his approach and he is well liked in all quarters of the House. I want to say—and I hope that it will be accepted in the spirit in which I put it forward—that I trust that the election will be fought not on anyone's personality but on the issues with which we are confronted.

Mr. Henderson

Since none of the questions today has had anything to do with the forthcoming election, will the Prime Minister explain in his broadcast tonight that the reason why he did not press ahead with the vote on the Scotland Act order was his cowardice in calling the bluff—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I know that the House is excited, but "cowardice" is an unparliamentary expression when applied to a right hon. or hon. Member.

Mr. Henderson

Let me put it this way. Will the Prime Minister explain to the country that it was his timidity in facing the rebels in his own ranks who wanted to see devolution defeated at all costs which caused his downfall in last night's vote?

The Prime Minister

I do not know whether that is the last oration that we shall hear from the hon. Gentleman, but, if it is, I regret that he has so misrepresented the position. I am looking forward to going to Scotland to explain that we might have been able to make some progress but for the actions of the SNP Members who have consistently supported the Conservative Party on votes of censure and who, by their actions last night, prevented any further progress on devolution.

Mr. Skinner

Is my right hon. Friend aware that had it not been for the activity of the Scottish nationalists last night, as one of the 40 per cent. rebels I would have been anxious to take part in the Scotland vote? Will the Prime Minister also consider the fact that, while I was counting the "No" votes, I bumped into the hon. Member for Banff (Mr. Watt)? I thought it strange that he was not at the other end counting the "Aye" votes. He was shaking at the knees, and I asked him how he thought it was going. He thought that we had won by three votes. When I explained to him that it was dangerously close—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The longer that I am here the clearer it becomes that the more we change the more we stay the same. That applies to every one of us. I think that the Prime Minister has gathered the trend of his hon. Friend's question.

Mr. Flannery

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May we hear the end of that question?

Mr. Speaker

Order. I realise that the House is anxious to hear the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner). I am curious too, so I shall let him finish.

Mr. Skinner

When I told the hon. Member for Banff that it was dangerously close and that we might lose because of the state of health of my hon. Friend the Member for Batley and Morley (Sir A. Broughton)—

Mr. Ernest G. Perry

He had to send his trousers to the cleaners.

Mr. Skinner

—he gave me the clear impression that he wanted a re-run of the vote so that he could vote on that occasion in our Lobby.