HC Deb 19 June 1956 vol 554 cc1233-6
47. Mr. Osborne

asked the Prime Minister if, in view of the fact that the nation is living beyond its means, and is consuming more than it is producing and thereby causing inflation and making the export of our manufactures more difficult, he will introduce legislation to prohibit any increase in wages and salaries except for longer hours and/or greater production, the increase in any dividends, and the issue of any bonus shares, and instruct the Ministers concerned that there shall be no increase in welfare service payments, until such time as price stability has been achieved, and our exports, including invisibles, are sufficient to pay for our imports.

48. Mr. H. Wilson

asked the Prime Minister what advice he gave to employers' representatives when he met them recently on the attitude they should adopt to present and future wage claims.

52. Mr. Gibson

asked the Prime Minister if, in the course of the present discussions with the leaders of trades unions, nationalised industries and private employers, he will seek agreement on limitation or reduction of dividends and price stabilisation, in the same way as the Government have already sought agreement on wage restraint.

The Prime Minister

As I explained in my Answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) on 27th March, the object of our talks has been to review the national economy and to emphasise the need to keep down prices. We have not sought to make formal arrangements or to obtain formal assurances, and we do not contemplate legislation. In all our discussions with employers and the leaders of the trade unions, we have been primarily concerned to put before the parties any information at our command and to discuss with them our view and theirs of the national interest.

Mr. Osborne

In view of the fact that all sections of the community would benefit from price stability, does not my right hon. Friend think that leaders on both sides of industry would accept legislation to ensure that—even if it meant a temporary sacrifice on the part of the whole community?

The Prime Minister

In a free society, I do not think that the fixing of prices and wages by legislation is the right solution. We have tried to put our view of the national interest before those whom we have met—and, I think, with some results. I believe that the right way to proceed is by agreement and discussion.

Mr. Wilson

But the Prime Minister has not begun to answer Question No. 48, which he said he was answering. Will he say whether—as is widely believed in the country, and widely reported in the Press —one purpose of this meeting was to advise private employers not to accept proposals for increased wages? Will the right hon. Gentleman and his Government keep absolutely clear of any proposals which are likely to lead to widespread industrial strife?

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Gentleman will no doubt have read the statement which was issued after our discussion. It represents the discussion with the employers. The other statements about the discussions with other branches of industry represent those discussions.

Mr. Gibson

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that it is quite unreasonable to expect trade unions to accept this rather vague attempt to tackle the problem unless he makes positive suggestions for controlling dividends and prices? If he does not do that, how can he expect millions of people, who see their cost of living rising, to decide not to press for more wages?

The Prime Minister

I think that the majority of the House will agree that this is not a matter which can be handled by legislation, and if it is not to be handled by legislation it must be handled by discussion and agreement with those principally concerned. That is what we have been trying to do, not, I think, entirely without some measure of success. Anyway, that is the way one works in a free society, and that is the way we are going on.

Mr. Wilson

In view of the widespread public interest in this matter and the great economic importance of it, will the right hon. Gentleman not say whether he did give any advice to the employers about wage claims, and, if so, what advice?

The Prime Minister

I am certainly not going at all beyond the public statement which was made, which dealt fully and fairly with our discussions with the employers, or beyond the other statements about the discussions whether with trade unions or employers. They were full statements. If anybody chooses to put a gloss on them, that is his business. I stand by the public statements.

Mr. Gaitskell

Are we, therefore, to assume from the Prime Minister's reply that these discussions will continue, and that, in effect, the Government are now conducting a series of negotiations with both sides of industry? If so, would the Prime Minister give some indication to the House of the proposals which it is suggested the Government should put forward in this matter?

The Prime Minister

I have said, and I think the right hon. Gentleman knows, that we have had a series of discussions with both sides of industry and the nationalised industries. These will continue. I think they have already brought some benefit in an understanding of the importance of stabilising prices. I said to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Huyton (Mr. H. Wilson) only that the statements in respect of those discussions have been full and fair, and agreed to by both sides, and I must ask the House to accept their sincerity as statements of what occurred.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. It is past half past three o'clock.