HC Deb 16 December 1971 vol 828 cc845-8
Q3. Mr. Joel Barnett

asked the Prime Minister if he will make a statement on his discussions with the Council of the Trades Union Congress on 1st December on economic measures.

Q4. Mr. Eadie

asked the Prime Minister whether he will make a statement on his discussions with Trade Union Congress leaders on 15th December on unemployment.

Q14. Mr. James Hamilton

asked the Prime Minister whether he will make a statement on his discussions with the General Council of the Trades Union Congress.

The Prime Minister

I would refer the hon. Gentlemen to the answer I gave last Tuesday to a Question from the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. John D. Grant).—[Vol. 828, c. 70–1.]

Mr. Barnett

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the main concern of the T.U.C. is with unemployment and that all the indicators seem to forecast that by the end of 1972 unemployment levels will be higher than they were in January, 1970, when the Prime Minister made his now famous promise? Would he at least be prepared today to make a new promise that by the end of 1972, in two-and-a-half years, he will have reduced the level of unemployment below that of June, 1970?

The Prime Minister

The hon. Gentleman must take responsibility for any forecasts that he makes.

Mr. Hamilton

Will the Prime Minister make a statement on the suggestion made by the T.U.C. at that conference that we should give a Christmas bonus to the old-age pensioners? Will the Prime Minister also take cognisance of what the T.U.C. said about development areas and going back to investment grants, with a view to giving the economy a push and showing that the Government have some kind of remedy?

The Prime Minister

There is a Question a little later on the Order Paper about my discussions with the T.U.C. I have already told the House that each of the proposals put forward by the T.U.C. is being examined in the usual way with great care. My right hon. Friend announced a decision yesterday about the six-day rule which followed from our discussions with the T.U.C.

Mr. Onslow

Since the previous Administration did succeed in one thing—that is, in proving that it is much easier to destroy confidence in industry than to recreate it—does not my right hon. Friend think hon. Gentlemen opposite should exercise some restraint on their hypocrisy on this subject?

The Prime Minister

It is too much to expect.

Mr. Harold Wilson

If the right hon. Gentleman has now stopped regarding questions on unemplyment as silly questions, as he has done in the last couple of minutes, will he answer this question? Since the figures published today show that the numbers wholly unemployed—which is the test that every Government have used—have increased by 20,000 over the last month, and that vacancies are down yet again over the last month, will the Prime Minister tell us whether he now agrees with the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his last reflation but one in July—or perhaps it was his last reflation but two—when he said that the unemployment figures would be affected within a couple of months?

The Prime Minister

There is no need for the right hon. Gentleman to distort what his right hon. Friend said in an attempt to justify it. There is no justification for what the right hon. Lady said.—[HON. MEMBERS: "Answer the question."]—In reply to the questions on unemployment, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer at that time give an analysis of the influences which were increasing unemployment, especially from the point of view of the slimming down of manpower in British industry. There is no doubt whatever about this. On the other hand, it cannot be denied that the measures which my right hon. Friend took have resulted in increased demand, which by itself is bound to bring about increased production after stocks have been lowered.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Is not the Leader of the Opposition on record as saying that restraint of incomes is our only guarantee against unemployment—and therefore it must be true? Can we not ask him to take a more constructive line in helping to curb wage inflation?

The Prime Minister

It is impossible for the Leader of the Opposition to have a constructive line on this, as on anything else, because he has no policies.

Mr. Roy Jenkins

Yes—[Laughter.]—Yes—[Laughter.] If the right hon. Gentleman can for a moment restrain himself from uncontrollable laughter and party quips about the most serious issue of the day, will he apply himself to the fact that the Chancellor of the Exchequer in July expected a down-turn in employment within a couple of months, and tell us what possible sign of this he can see in today's figures, five months after that statement from the most responsible economic Minister in the Government?

The Prime Minister

If the right hon. Gentleman could refrain from twice reaffirming that his leader has no policies—[HON. MEMBERS: "Answer the question."]—

Mr. Faulds

On a point of order——

Mr. Speaker

Order. I very much hope that, if the hon. Gentleman wants to raise a point of order, he will do so at the end of the Question Time.

The Prime Minister

—we might then be spared the laughter from this side of the House. The fact is that the Leader of the Opposition is not interested in putting forward constructive policies to deal with unemployment but is interested merely in making political party capital out of it.

Mr. Harold Wilson

As the right hon. Gentleman has twice said that I have no policy, and since our policy has been stated in successive unemployment debates when we warned that we should get figures like those of today, will the right hon. Gentleman, if he has not studied our statements on these matters, including investment grants and many other relevant questions, at any rate recognise on the facts that we kept unemployment down to a figure not much more than 600,000, even when we were fighting a deficit of £800 million inherited from him? Is he aware that a Prime Minister who, with the biggest surplus in our history, can achieve 1 million unemployed is the greatest economic failure this country has seen?

The Prime Minister

What the country and I know is that after 20th July, 1966, the right hon. Gentleman and his Government deliberately set out to create unemployment. We are seeing unemployment today as a result of the release of inflationary pressures which came from his attempt to win the election.