HC Deb 01 February 1968 vol 757 cc1552-4
Q4. Mr. Marten

asked the Prime Minister whether, in view of his decision to be concerned directly in the work of the Department of Economic Affairs, he will make a statement on the steps he has taken to raise the standard of living of the British people between the end of August, 1967, to date.

The Prime Minister

The hon. Member will have seen the relevant indices affecting production, productivity earnings and prices during this period, though he will be aware of the steps we have had to take to rectify the fundamental weaknesses in our economy with which he and his former Government colleagues left us.

Mr. Marten

Does the Prime Minister recall the remarks of the ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer only six months ago that devaluation must mean a lowering of standards for the British people? If it does not mean that, it does not mean anything at all. What steps is the right hon. Gentleman taking to lower the standard of living of the British people in accordance with the letter to the International Monetary Fund?

The Prime Minister

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the statement made by my right hon. Friend was fully debated for two days in the debate which followed devaluation. I have nothing to add to what was said from this bench on that occasion. Since the hon. Gentleman is now showing concern in the standard of living of the British people, he will no doubt have studied the indices to which I have referred, including the very big increase in productivity. He will recall that the Government have raised the standard of living of a very considerable number of those living on National Insurance benefits during the period he has in mind.

Mr. John Fraser

Would my right hon. Friend try to agree performance targets with industry so that not only industry but the British people might be made fully aware of the advantages and opportunities which can accrue from devaluation for increasing their standard of living?

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend will be aware, not only of the work of the N.E.D.C., but of the work of the individual economic development councils in respect of the possibilities now open to industries and individual firms as a result of devaluation.

Mr. Heath

What projection have the Government given the N.E.D.C. of the rise in the cost of living during 1968?

The Prime Minister

Speaking from memory, as yet I do not think that any particular estimate has been put before it beyond what has been said to the House by Ministers, but I will be glad to investigate whether in the rather formidable list of documents given to it this figure has been given and give an answer in the House. As I said in answer to the previous Question about the N.E.D.C., we shall be continuing the discussion at the next meeting next Wednesday.

Mr. Stratton Mills

Has the Prime Minister any comment to make on the National Opinion Poll published this morning which shows that two-thirds of the electorate are dissatisfied with the way in which he is running the country?

Mr. Speaker

Order. Supplementary questions must arise from the Question on the Order Paper.

The Prime Minister

May I answer the hon. Gentleman, Mr. Speaker, since he has raised this matter? I am sure that he would not wish, by referring to this, further to embarrass his Leader in view of what is said about him in that poll.

Mr. Hugh D Brown

May I ask my right hon. Friend a serious question? In the light of the exhortation in his statement of 16th January to people on the shop floor, what direct encouragement can he give to shop stewards in the trade union movement to ask managements what initiatives they have taken with the opportunities that devaluation has presented?

The Prime Minister

This is a serious Question. My hon. Friend will have seen the suggestion that I made in the course of a speech in the country during the Recess proposing that all significantly sized firms who export or who could export should set up export committees representative of managements and trade unions to discuss what either side could do to get more exports, the workers pressing, perhaps, for greater activity on the sales side and for changes in layout, and the management side asking for full cooperation in seeing that orders are met, in getting down costs and abolishing practices. I am glad to see that this proposal has received quite a lot of support in industrial circles, although some of the best firms have always had committees of this kind.