HC Deb 27 July 1976 vol 916 cc248-50
Q2. Mr. Cryer

asked the Prime Minister if he will pay an official visit to Bradford.

The Prime Minister

I have at present no plans to do so.

Mr. Cryer

Does my right hon. Friend accept that he would be very welcome, especially in Keighley? Will he say how the proposed public expenditure cuts will affect Bradford, whose textile industry is already deeply troubled because of the lack of proper import controls? Will he also explain how expenditure cuts will help to regenerate British industry when the announcement has caused the CBI to announce a strike of capital? What will my right hon. Friend do to answer the CBI?

The Prime Minister

I know the position of Bradford; I looked it up specially in anticipation of this supplementary question. It is true that the textile and clothing industries are being protected both by EEC agreements negotiated over the past 18 months under the GATT Multi-Fibre Arrangement and by others. We have reinforced these agreements in particular cases by our own controls against cotton yarn from Portugal, Spain, Greece and Turkey, and woollen suits from Eastern Europe. I am told that this means that virtually all disruptive imports of textiles and clothing from low-cost sources are now subject to control.

The Chancellor indicated in his statement that either he or the Secretary of State for Trade would be very willing to discuss this matter further with the industry. I wish to emphasise that there should be no ideological objection to import controls in the present situation. They stand under the general lines of policy that we have indicated before. We do not refute them as a matter of ideology, although we believe that, on balance, the world is better off if it can do without them.

In reply to the second part of the supplementary question, I was disappointed with Lord Watkinson's reaction on the question of investment by industry. I had thought that we should get a different response from him, but I hope to be having conversations with him about it.

Mr. Baker

Will the Prime Minister tell the House—as he is now a latter-day convert to open government—what in any event we shall learn from the Treasury in two or three months' time, namely, how much standby credit has been used to support the pound?

The Prime Minister

I am not overly a convert to open Government. I think that it has its place. For example, there are secrets that are better kept within the family, for several reasons. On the general issue—I am sorry, what was it?

Mr. Baker

Standby credit.

The Prime Minister

I wanted to dismiss it from my mind. It was a clear case of a Freudian slip. As the hon. Gentleman knows, these matters are published under well-defined rules, and it does not help the position of currencies that are under attack—whether it be the franc, sterling or any other currency—for day-to-day attention to be concentrated on them. What is needed now is a period of steadiness in the money market.

Mr. MacFarquhar

Whether or not my right hon. Friend goes to Bradford, will he spend the Summer Reces totting up the suggestions for public expenditure cuts made by the Conservative Party, to see which is the natural party of unemployment from the consequences of those suggestions?

The Prime Minister

On the whole, do not think that Question Time is a fruitful time in which to attack the Opposition. It is their job to attack me.

This afternoon in Question Time I listened to demands for additional expenditure on at least three different objects. The child benefit scheme was one. [Interruption.] The Opposition cannot speak for those who ask the questions. I was here during Question Time. Some of those who now interrupt me were not present then.

Invalidity benefit was another object of the proposed increased expenditure. The third escapes me for the moment, but there were at least three proposals this afternoon.

I add to that the speech that we are promised by the Leader of the Opposition at the weekend, calling for additional defence expenditure. I am waiting with great interest to read that. I add to that the fact that the Opposition spokesman for research policy is in favour of a much larger amount of unemployment. I think that the nation will soon be able to draw its own conclusions about the hypocrisy of the Opposition.

Mr. Prior

Will the Prime Minister give guidance for his view that the Conservative Party spokesman for research is in favour of high unemployment, in view of the fact that my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph) told the Government in 1974 that if they did not cut public expenditure unemployment would go up? Since that time, unemployment has doubled.

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir; the evidence is contained in the right hon. Gentleman's speech, which was reported in the Sunday Telegraph.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. Question Time is now over.