Prime Minister (Engagements)

Oral Answers to Questions — Education and Science – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 16th May 1978.

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Photo of Mr Kenneth Lewis Mr Kenneth Lewis , Rutland and Stamford 12:00 am, 16th May 1978

asked the Prime Minister whether he will list his public engagements for Tuesday 16th May.

Photo of Mr James Callaghan Mr James Callaghan The Prime Minister, Leader of the Labour Party, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

This morning I greeted President Khama of Botswana on his arrival for an official visit to this country. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall be holding meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. This evening, subject to parliamentary business, I hope to address the annual dinner of the CBI.

Photo of Mr Kenneth Lewis Mr Kenneth Lewis , Rutland and Stamford

If the Prime Minister has time during the rest of the day, will he reconsider two speeches he made over the weekend? In the first of them he said that his Government had plenty of time. As for the second, will he reconsider what he said in terms of the family—that he would have a special family policy, the Government's family policy? Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that the impact of every Government policy so far has done nothing but damage families in this country? Unemployment is now higher than ever before, we have a poorer education system than we have ever had before, and we have a flagging National Health Service. Had not his Government better forget bringing in that kind of policy?

Photo of Mr James Callaghan Mr James Callaghan The Prime Minister, Leader of the Labour Party, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

I am glad to say that both speeches I made at the weekend were extremely well received and that I derived very great encouragement from them. I do not recall—I wish that I could pick the audience here; it would be a lot better than the one I have got—the first reference that the hon. Gentleman made. As regards family policy, however, I do not really see how he can make that charge when we consider the proposed and actual increases in child benefit, when we recall that the present Budget introduces a new reduced rate band which certainly helps every working wife to a greater extent than it helps where there is one income coming in, and when we recall a number of other measures of which the hon. Gentleman is well aware.

What I feel is clear is that the policy of the Government—like that of others—has not been totally co-ordinated. As there is now a larger number of women going out to work than ever before, a number of changes are needed if we are to preserve and enhance the family's dimension and the family circle, which I believe to be a very precious asset in our national life.

Photo of Mr Robert Mellish Mr Robert Mellish , Southwark Bermondsey

My right hon. Friend should not be worried, because most of us thought that the speeches were jolly good. [AN. HON. MEMBER: "What is your majority, Bob?"] Unlike some hon. Gentlemen, I do not worry about majorities. When the Prime Minister meets the CBI tonight, will he be good enough to revert to what is properly called his "Buy British" campaign and in this instance strongly urge British manufacturers to ensure that they buy British raw materials rather than buy from abroad? This is one of the worst features of our import problem.

Photo of Mr James Callaghan Mr James Callaghan The Prime Minister, Leader of the Labour Party, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

The accent on our import propensity is very considerable. I believe that the CBI is a very useful instrument for trying to bring suppliers and customers much more closely together. It is at the manufacturing stage that I believe "Buy British" can have most effect. It is "Buy British make British and sell British".

Photo of Mrs Margaret Thatcher Mrs Margaret Thatcher Leader of Her Majesty's Official Opposition, Leader of the Conservative Party

If the Prime Minister has always had a natural wish to help the family, why have his Government pursued a policy of heavy income tax on families, as on everyone else in society? Why have successive Labour Administrations taken so much away from families in income tax that they have left them with too little to keep themselves and then compelled them to apply for means-tested benefits in order to get some of their own money back?

Photo of Mr James Callaghan Mr James Callaghan The Prime Minister, Leader of the Labour Party, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

The right hon. Lady's comment seems to be more an expression of opinion than a question asking for information, but I must tell her that, in addition to the benefits that I have already mentioned in reply to the Question of the hon. Member for Rutland and Stamford (Mr. Lewis), we have, as she will remember, kept the price of school meals steady during the course of the current year. I am particularly glad that we were able to increase the provision of free school milk. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am sure that the right hon. Lady will join me in thanking the Chancellor for doing that.

Generally, it seems to me that the burden that the family has had to carry has been part of the national burden borne over the last few years in order to get our situation right. I am glad to say that living standards are now going ahead faster than they have done for some years.

Photo of Mrs Margaret Thatcher Mrs Margaret Thatcher Leader of Her Majesty's Official Opposition, Leader of the Conservative Party

Will the Prime Minister address himself to the supplementary question which I asked? Is it not better to leave the family with enough of its own money to keep its own children rather than first to take it away in income tax and then to compel the family to suffer the indignity of applying for means-tested benefit such as school meals?

Photo of Mr James Callaghan Mr James Callaghan The Prime Minister, Leader of the Labour Party, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

The right hon. Lady obviously does not want to listen to the answers that I give, because it is quite clear from what my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer said that in fact income tax is being reduced in this Budget for the family. This was in every sense a family Budget when one takes into account school meals, school milk, the reduction in income tax and the increase in children's benefits. It is the right hon. Lady and her friends who have distorted the Budget by giving relief to those who are best off in the country—to those, indeed, who are getting the highest incomes. How that can be construed as helping the average family is more than I can understand.

Photo of Mr Terence Walker Mr Terence Walker , Kingswood

Will my right hon. Friend have opportunity today to consider newspaper reports about the future production programme of British Aerospace and whether the future partners of British Aerospace will be European or American? Will he confirm those reports, which suggested that a Cabinet decision is forthcoming on this matter? This is most urgent and important to many workers in my constituency whose jobs depend upon it and also in view of the pressure of British Airways in trying to buy American aircraft at this time.

Photo of Mr James Callaghan Mr James Callaghan The Prime Minister, Leader of the Labour Party, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

My hon. Friend introduces one of the complications in what is undoubtedly a natural instinct to buy British, because the conflicting interests of British Airways, British Aerospace and Rolls-Royce do not all run in the same direction. I can promise my hon. Friend that the Government are giving the most careful consideration to these matters. We shall try to produce an answer in due course that will best meet the national needs and, I hope, safeguard a great many jobs.

Photo of Mr James Prior Mr James Prior , Lowestoft

Will the Prime Minister take time today to inquire why no decision has been reached about the removal of the hulk of the "Eleni V" from just off my constituency? Is he aware that the delay has caused grave misgivings among my constituents and that there has been a lack of decisive action? Will he further state that the Government will now hold a full inquiry into all the events of this ghastly accident in order that we can learn from the experience of what has happened so that we try not to make the same mistakes again?

Photo of Mr James Callaghan Mr James Callaghan The Prime Minister, Leader of the Labour Party, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

Without accepting that mistakes have been made in this matter, I understand fully the concern of the right hon. Gentleman and his constituents, as I believe we all do, especially taking recent events into account. I made inquiries before coming into the House and I understand that the immediate objectives of attaching tow lines securely to the wreck have largely been achieved. There is adequate buoyancy, and representatives of two leading salvage firms are now meeting in order to reach an early decision on the best course of action. If there are any lessons to be learned, I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that that will be so, but after every one of these disasters the local arrangements are reviewed very completely indeed in order to ensure the least possible damage to the coast.

Photo of Mr James Prior Mr James Prior , Lowestoft

Is it not extraordinary that this ship—

Hon. Members:

Oh, not again.

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

Order. I have always tried to help hon. Members from both sides. If they have constituency interests, Members know that I try to help.

Photo of Mr James Prior Mr James Prior , Lowestoft

What seems extraordinary is that the hulk has been lying off the coast for 10 days, it has been known that it would have to be raised, it has now been raised and still no decision has been taken as to what to do with it. It really is a terrible situation for my constituency, and I believe that the Government ought by now to have decided what to do.

Photo of Mr James Callaghan Mr James Callaghan The Prime Minister, Leader of the Labour Party, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

I do not complain about the right hon. Gentleman using this opportunity to raise what clearly is a very serious matter for him, but I think he will excuse me from knowing all the details of these matters. I shall certainly make inquiries of the appropriate Ministries about the situation, but I understand that eight spraying vessels, together with a naval minesweeper, were on the scene within 24 hours, that the numbers have progressively been increased and that the local authorities were prepared when the first oil reached the beaches, but I also understand that they are still having great difficulty in deciding about the future of the vessel. That, however, does not necessarily lie wholly in the hands of the Government. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman, and especially the people who live on that part of the coast, that the Government will make sure that there is no delay in reaching decisions on this matter.