HC Deb 05 June 1980 vol 985 cc1671-6
Q2. Mr. Whitehead

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 5 June.

The Prime Minister

This morning I presided at a meeting of the Cabinet. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall be having further meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. This evening I shall be giving a reception for the England football team before leaving for a visit to Cheshire.

Mr. Whitehead

When preparing for her arduous round of duties, did the Prime Minister have time over breakfast this morning to discuss the newspaper allegation that one of the firms paying starvation wages in South Africa is Burmah Oil? Does she realise that she has a double personal obligation to the House to ensure that her Ministers insist on the publication of the list of 33 firms involved in this affair? Will she explain why, today of all days, we are to be told that the work of the labour attaché in Pretoria, who has been our personal monitor in these matters, is to be phased out?

The Prime Minister

I shall take the latter question first. The report about the labour attaché in Pretoria is not correct. The present attaché is retiring. He will be 60 years old this year. He is being replaced, and the person replacing him will take over precisely the same functions that are performed by the present labour attaché.

With regard to the hon. Gentleman's other question—he usually asks two—all facts are published in the reports of the companies, and under the voluntary code all reports are available in the Library of the House.

Mr. John Browne

Will my right hon. Friend say whether the Government have received the report of the European Commission of Human Rights relating to the closed shop and especially to the case of Young James and Webster? Will she also say whether the Government intend to fight that case under article 11(1) before the European Court, or whether they intend to accept the recommendations of the report?

The Prime Minister

The Government have received the report of the commission. We do not believe that it is critical of the new provisions in the Employment Bill, which are very different from the law as it was when those people lost their jobs by virtue of the closed shop. As my hon. Friend will know, the report of the commission goes to the European Court. I understand that a court has been established, but the date for the hearing has not yet been announced. It is right that the Government should attend the court and put their views on the closed shop, which are very different from the views of the previous Labour Administration.

Mr. Cook

Before the Prime Minister's reception this evening, will she find time to telephone the NEB and ask it to stop playing football with the future of Ferranti? Is she aware that the proposal to dispose of the NEB's interest in Ferranti in one go has been rejected by the united work force, and condemned even by management as being against the best interests of the company? Will she explain why, for the sake of a fast buck, she is taking such a gamble with the future of high technology industry in Britain, which we need if we are to survive as a manufacturing nation?

The Prime Minister

The NEB helped Ferranti when it was in need. Ferranti no longer needs help through the NEB. It is for that board to dispose of the shares in the best way possible.

Q3. Mr. Madel

asked the Prime Miniser if she will list her official engagements for 5 June.

The Prime Minister

I refer my hon. Friend to the reply which I have just given.

Mr. Madel

In view of the increasing interest in reform of the House of Lords and our system of government, will my right hon. Friend discuss today with the Lord Chancellor the possibility of publishing a Green Paper in the autumn, which would give the House an opportunity to decide how best we might improve our vitally important system of dual-chamber government?

The Prime Minister

I know that my hon. Friend takes a close interest in these matters. There are many conflicting views on whether the House of Lords should be reformed, and, if so, precisely how that could be achieved. Some hon. Members who have been in the House for a long time remember a number of efforts in this Chamber to reform the House of Lords, but they were not successful. There is no possibility of the Government producing a Green Paper in the autumn. I think that my hon. Friend will agree that, for the time being, we have more urgent matters on our plate.

Mr. Gordon Wilson

Has the Prime Minister had the opportunity today to hear the BBC radio reports that the West German Government would like the opportunity to obtain North Sea oil more cheaply? In view of the communiqué from the summit conference of the EEC few weeks ago, when the whole question of oil supplies to the Community was discussed, will she say how the Government intend to respond to the request from the West German Government?

The Prime Minister

Under existing law there would be no possibility of that happening. The oil that the Government can purchase under existing contracts must be purchased at the world price. If that world price is not agreed with BNOC, it can go to arbitration. Those are the laws that we inherited from the previous Labour Administration, and those are the laws that are observed.

Mr. Eggar

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that it remains the intention of the Government to return ownership in nationalised industries directly to the people? Will she further consider whether shares in such corporations as BNOC and BGC could be given directly to all citizens, taxpayers and pensioners? Does she recognise that such a proposal would encourage share ownership, lead to a recognition of the need for profit, and ensure that no further nationalisation could be introduced by any future Labour Government?

The Prime Minister

Where a large proportion of shares in nationalised industries is being sold to the public we believe that those who work in the industry should have preference in purchasing those shares. That would be to the advantage both of the industry and the British people. With regard to a scheme to give shares in all nationalised industries to the British people, I know that it was partly done in Vancouver. However, we have a rather larger number of people in Britain. But we would not rule out that suggestion.

Mr. Alton

Will the Prime Minister take time today to discuss with the Minister of Transport the publication of the Government's White Paper on roads? Will she specifically consider the announcement made yesterday by the Merseyside county council to the effect that the Liverpool inner ring road will cost an additional £1 million? Will she consider scrapping that scheme, which has more to do with vested interest than with need, and redeploying the money into the local Health Service to ensure that the local hospitals remain open?

The Prime Minister

The hon. Gentleman may have a constituency point, but I think that he will recognise that the road programme has been reduced. There is not much scope for it being reduced further. If I were to accede to his request I should receive many complaints from other people.

Q4. Mr. William Hamilton

asked the Prime Minister what are her official engagements for Thursday 5 June.

The Prime Minister

I refer the hon Member to the reply which I gave earlier.

Mr. Hamilton

Will the Prime Minister take time today to read the speeches made by the Secretary of State for Industry in California and other parts of America? Is she aware that he is saying that we are making progress away from stagnation? Can she produce a single shred of evidence to show that that is happening? As the Secretary of State for Industry is in America primarily to find American silicon chip investment for Britain, would not he be better served by announcing now the £25 million for Inmos in Britain?

The Prime Minister

The hon. Gentleman asked two questions. On the first question, my right hon. Friend is especially concerned to boost the microelectronics industry in Britain. It is a considerably expanding industry, and is taking on far more labour than other industries. I do not want the House to hold me to the precise figure, but I believe that I am right to say that the increase in exports of microelectronics this year over last year is of the order of 30 per cent. That is worth boosting and worth shouting about.

On Inmos, the first £25 million given to it by the previous Labour Administration through the NEB was given to establish a factory in Colorado Springs, and has so far resulted only in about 37 jobs in Britain. We are considering carefully the conditions that we should attach to any money going in that direction.

Mr. James Callaghan

Will the Prime Minister please answer the question about whether we are moving away from stagnation? Is it not the case that we are facing a year by year decline in our industrial progression? Because of the daily announcement of redundancies, will she please take the matter seriously? What direct responsibility will the Government take for handling the growing level of unemployment which, over the coming months, will become worse?

The Prime Minister

With regard to the right hon. Gentleman's latter point, I agree that there is a substantial number of redundancies being announced. But I must say what he frequently said from this Dispatch Box—albeit in a slightly different way—that one man's wage increase can cost another man his job. That is frequently happening. Some of the wage increases that are totally unrelated to productivity are pricing whole firms out of the market, and people are choosing to buy more competitive products from overseas.

Mr. Callaghan

Whatever may be the impact of wages on the level of employment, is it not the case that the level of interest rates—on which a false start was made last Tuesday—and the Government's monetary policy are having a more direct impact on the number of jobs? Will she take into account what was said by the Manpower Services Commission yesterday, namely, that it cannot fulfil its responsibilities with the present level of revenue that it receives? The right hon. Lady must take responsibility for the level of unemployment. In addition to blaming the trade unions, she has a responsibility and she must assume it.

The Prime Minister

No one can create genuine jobs by printing money. That only creates more inflation, which leads to more unemployment. I, too, read the report of the Manpower Services Commission. I think that it is worth reading in its entirety. I noticed one very telling comment: The generation of permanent new jobs is outside the Commission's powers.