HC Deb 11 December 1956 vol 562 cc222-4
45. Mr. Lewis

asked the Prime Minister whether, in view of the need for national unity, he will take the necessary action to prevent controversial legislation being introduced and take such action as may be necessary to suspend further progress with the Rent Bill, and take no further steps to impose the prescription charges or take any other action which will increase the cost of living.

The Lord Privy Seal (Mr. R. A. Butler)

I have been asked to reply.

The Government believe that the legislation they introduce, and the policies they pursue, are in the best interests of the country. Therefore, much as we would welcome the support of the hon. Member and his right hon. and hon. Friends, we must, if necessary, press on without it.

Mr. Lewis

Is the right hon. Gentleman not aware that the Chancellor made an appeal only last week to the trade unions not to go forward for wage increases? In view of the fact that the trade unions have rightly condemned these suggested legislative Measures, which undoubtedly will push up the cost of living, should not the Minister, if he wants to get the co-operation and good will of the trade unions, meet them and discuss with them the possibility of implementing the suggestion contained in the Question?

Mr. Butler

It is very important indeed for the Government that we should work with the trade unions. The reason for the Rent Bill has been explained by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government, and it will, we believe, have a good effect upon the economy, quite apart from the effect which it will have on the demand on housing. The question of the prescription charges, to which reference is made in the Question, arises because my right hon. Friend was obliged to economise in Government expenditure. There are, therefore, reasons for both these Measures, which we believe are important.

Mr. Gaitskell

In view of the right hon. Gentleman's reply, may I ask whether it is intended by the Government that they should have formal consultations with the Trades Union Congress on the present economic situation, and, if so, whether it would not be wise, pending those consultations, for the Government to keep an open mind on this question?

Mr. Butler

I cannot go back on the Answer I have given on these questions, but I have said before, during the Prime Minister's absence, that we do attach importance to the contacts which we already have with the Trades Union Congress. In particular, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will be glad to maintain contact with the Economic Committee, and we have also the committees of the Government upon which the trade unions are represented. We value these contacts and, if there is the slightest desire for an early meeting, then it will certainly be met.