HC Deb 29 January 1981 vol 997 cc1072-4
Q4. Mr. Whitney

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 29 January.

The Prime Minister

I refer my hon. Friend to the reply which I gave some moments ago.

Mr. Whitney

Will my right hon. Friend, in the course of her busy day, find time to look again at the Government's recent Green Paper on trade union immunities? Does she agree that the latest alarming developments, which have demonstrated the ability of a small group of trade unionists to manipulate the Labour Party, show the need for a thorough-going review and reform of the unique system of immunities that has been conferred on the British trade union movement?

The Prime Minister

I think that my hon. Friend's views on the role of the trade unions in certain leadership appointments are shared by people from a wide spectrum of political opinion. We are looking forward to consultations on the Green Paper on trade union immunities. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment has allowed a considerable period for that. I agree with my hon. Friend that the immunities of trade unions in this country are unique in their extent. The decision that we take about future legislation will depend a great deal upon the representations that we receive.

Mr. Heffer

Since the Tate and Lyle factory and its workers at Liverpool seem to meet the Prime Minister's criteria, in the sense that the factory is not overmanned, industrial relations are marvellous and productivity is increasing, can she explain why the factory is to be closed? Are her Government prepared to tackle the problem of the EEC, which is basically responsible for the closure? Is she prepared to help with Government money to keep the factory open?

The Prime Minister

I seem to remember that the closure of that factory is tied up with the increasing proportion of sugar that comes from beet and the reducing proportion that comes from cane. [HON. MEMBERS: "The EEC."] I hear hon. Members murmuring "The EEC", but I seem to remember—perhaps the hon. Gentleman will check the precise figures—that the quota for beet sugar under the last Government was slightly larger than that which obtains under this Government, which, if correct, seems to suggest that even more sugar would have been refined from beet and less from cane.

Mr. Myles

In view of the serious drop, of 24 per cent., in net farm incomes revealed in the agricultural review White Paper, will my right hon. Friend think carefully before taking any decision that might erode the competitive position of our farmers in Europe?

The Prime Minister

I know that my hon. Friend is always assiduous in putting forward the interests of his constituents in farming and that he is often successful in the degree to which he persuades the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to give extra help to agriculture in his constituency. I am well aware of the contents of that White Paper. My hon. Friend will know that farming incomes vary greatly from commodity to commodity. He will also be well aware that, as the green pound is now, it gives farmers a good opportunity to export their products and to get a subsidy on those exports.

Mr. Crowther

In view of the fiasco a few minutes ago when my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton) was told that the Government had no idea of how much unemployment was costing public funds, will the right hon. Lady today instruct her Treasury Ministers to find out? If they do not know, how can they justify their policy that it is better to pay people to be out of work than to put money into industry to keep them in jobs?

The Prime Minister

If one had to pay to put everyone into work, and if their wages were higher than the unemployment benefit, that would obviously be a greater cost. With regard to the specific cost, my memory off the cuff is that this year the national insurance fund, which pays out the unemployment benefit, has estimated that the cost to it of unemployment benefit will be about £1.1 billion. To that is added a sum for social security, which I think is about £1.2 billion. [HON. MEMBERS: "What about tax?".] I hear hon. Members asking "What about tax?". If the Government have to pay people to pay tax back to them, there really is no benefit.

Mr. Foot

In view of the right hon. Lady's reply, and in view of the somewhat contradictory replies that were given earlier, will the right hon. Lady ensure that before we have the extremely important debate on unemployment next Thursday—I am grateful to her and the Government for having arranged it in response to our request—we shall have a Government statement giving the full details of the cost of unemployment?

The Prime Minister

If the right hon. Gentleman wants particular details, I am sure that if right hon. and hon. Members on the Labour Benches table the appropriate questions they will get all the statistics available. That is the customary way.