HC Deb 18 July 1972 vol 841 cc388-94
Q2. Mr. Atkinson

asked the Prime Minister what recent official discussions he has had with Mr. Vic Feather, General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress; and if he will make a statement.

Q4. Mr. Ashton

asked the Prime Minister whether he will make a statement on his official meeting with the Trades Union Congress leaders on 4th July.

Q6. Mr. Duffy

asked the Prime Minister if he will report on his official meeting with the Trades Union Congress General Council on 4th July, 1972.

Q7. Mr. St. John-Stevas

asked the Prime Minister whether he will make a statement on his official talks with the Trades Union Congress General Council which were held on 4th July.

Q9. Mr. James Lamond

asked the Prime Minister if he will make a statement on his official talks with the Trades Union Congress leaders on 4th July.

Q12. Mr. Leslie Huckfield

asked the Prime Minister whether he will make a statement on the outcome of his discussions with the Trades Union Congress on 4th July.

Q13. Mr. Molloy

asked the Prime Minister what proposals were put to him by the Trades Union Congress leaders during his recent discussion with them on industrial relations.

Q14. Mr. Ashley

asked the Prime Minister if he will make a statement on the outcome of his latest talks with the Trades Union Congress.

Q16. Mr. Adley

asked the Prime Minister if he will make a statement following his discussions with Trades Union Congress leaders at 10 Downing Street.

Q19. Mr. James Hamilton

asked the Prime Minister whether he will make a statement following his meeting with the Trades Union Congress on Tuesday, 4th July.

The Prime Minister

I would refer my hon. Friends and hon. Gentlemen opposite to the answer I gave to a Question from the hon. Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Arthur Lewis) on 6th July.—[Vol. 840, c. 207.]

Mr. Atkinson

When the Prime Minister meets trade union leaders this afternoon will he confirm to them that there has been a drop in employment in manufacturing and production industries over the last 12 months of more than 5 per cent.? Will he also confirm to them that all the indstrial economists who have made predictions about employment opportunities during the coming 12 months in manufacturing industry suggest that there will be a further 3 per cent. drop in job opportunities? The onus is therefore upon the right hon. Gentleman. If he is to solve the unemployment situation, the Government must now announce the measures which they intend to take to create jobs in the service industries to reduce the appalling size of the unemployment problem.

The Prime Minister

The important point about industrial production is that the increase for manufacturing industry in May over April was 3.1 points—that is, in one month alone. The hon. Gentleman knows that we are at all time prepared to discuss the figures of growth and employment with the TUC and the CBI.

Mr. Ashton

When the Prime Minister meets the TUC at the NEDC meeting he will be only two months from the £1-a-week rent increase in October. Although some of the poorer paid will get rebates what does he expect trade unionists to do when the increase comes into effect? Will he tell them that he expects them to absorb the rent increases, or will he say that they should go for wage increases to pay for them?

The Prime Minister

This is an arrangement which helps the lower paid in particular, and that is one of the objectives of the TUC. When we listed the subjects which we thought could readily be discussed this afternoon from the Government's point of view, the subject of improvements for the lower paid was one of them.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

If the Leader of the Opposition genuinely wants to promote the national interest, which I am sure he does, would it not be better if, instead of making impossible demands in weekend speeches, he pointed to what the Government had done to help the lower-paid workers and to keep down prices?

The Prime Minister

I agree that that is desirable. In fairness to the TUC, I must say that, in discussions which I have had with it, the council has fully acknowledged what the Government have done in this respect, and that the CBI has carried out its undertaking on the 5 per cent. arrangement for prices.

Mr. Lamond

When the Prime Minister next meets the TUC, will he swallow his pride and thank the council for the responsible way in which it has responded to his overtures and turned the other cheek and behaved much more responsibly that his own Ministers, who have lost no opportunity of chastising the council unfairly for things which were not its fault?

The Prime Minister

I have said on many occasions that I have had many meetings with the TUC, whether the General Council, the General Purposes Committee or the Economic Committee. I have said in public that I was delighted that the council accepted my invitation to have talks, and I am pleased that the CBI will be there, too.

Sir Harmar Nicholls

If my right hon. Friend were invited to be the guest speaker at this year's Trades Union Congress, would he accept? Does he not think that if the TUC wants to reflect its impartiality and objectivity, it would not hurt the TUC to invite a Conservative Prime Minister in the same way as it invites Labour Prime Ministers?

The Prime Minister

I think that question can best be answered in accordance with the House of Commons tradition—that it is a hypothetical question which normally one would not answer. However, I gladly say that if I were invited, I would accept.

Mr. Huckfield

Does not the Prime Minister feel in his heart, wherever it may be, that there is something unjust in asking leaders of men to accept a pay norm, whatever that may be, when many of the men responsible for telling the trade unions that they cannot have increased pay awards have themselves been given a pay increase, willy-nilly, of at least £2,000 a year by the present Government?

The Prime Minister

Since the hon. Gentleman is referring to the recommendation of the review boards which were set up in an attempt to find an impartial way of dealing with these matters, I should remind him of the awards recommended for Ministers, for the Leader of the Opposition and Members of Parliament. They affected pensions of Members of Parliament and other arrangements. We accepted them in toto because we said that we would deal with the matter on the basis that this was an independent recommendation. It was the same for the chairmen of the nationalised industries, senior civil servants and the judiciary. If there is a better way of dealing with it, let it be suggested, but so far no Government have found a better way. It is right that, a review board having been set up, with a responsible chairman and membership, and the members having given a large amount of their time, its report should be treated responsibly by the Government and by Parliament.

Miss Joan Hall

Is it not true that (the catering industry in this country is very short of staff and has had to obtain employees from overseas to keep the industry going? This applies particularly in Yorkshire and on Humberside where there is unemployment and also a large number of vacancies in the catering industry. Could not some of these unemployed be put into the catering industry?

The Prime Minister

This is a point with which my colleagues and I are very much in agreement. Discussions have been conducted on this problem with the catering industry by the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science is also involved. I understand that the amount of training going on in this country for the catering industry is very substantial. I hope that the industry will now take full advantage of those who have had first-rate training in this country.

Mr. Molloy

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that rising prices, unemployment and industrial relations are inextricably linked? Is he not also aware that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition has called for restraint on both sides of industry? Ought not the Prime Minister now to make his contribution by telling the CBI and the TUC that the Government acknowledge that the Industrial Relations Act has created far too much disharmony in industry and that he is prepared to see that the Act is properly amended?

The Prime Minister

I dealt with this matter fully in my speech in the House on industrial relations a fortnight ago. I said that when the Act had been operated fully for a reasonable time I would be prepared to consider what recommendations there may be for its amendment. This is a perfectly normal attitude for the Government to adopt.

I agree with what the hon. Member said about the three factors being interrelated. The fact is that if inflation continues and prices rise, there will inevitably be unemployment. That causes tension in industry, which leads to industrial unrest, just as rising prices themselves create pressure for rising wages, and these cause tensions in society and industrial disturbance.

Mr. Adley

When my right hon. Friend met the TUC did he get the impression which many of us have received privately from trade union leaders that they support the principle of the Industrial Relations Act but would approve of some amendment of it?

The Prime Minister

It would be fair to say that there are varying views in the trade union movement about the Act and about particular parts of it, but my statement, which I made in the debate in the House, remains the Government's position.

Mr. Ashley

Despite his reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Molloy), may I ask the Prime Minister whether he is aware that while the Industrial Relations Act remains on the Statute Book all discussions with the TUC will be barren? Since the Secretary of State for Employment has admitted that it is impossible to assess the long-term effect of the Act, does the right hon. Gentleman not agree that the Government should never have passed the Act in the first place?

The Prime Minister

I cannot accept that. When I explained the Government's position at the last meeting with the TUC—it was the General Council of the TUC—they accepted the Government's position. If they had not done so, they would not be having talks with us and the CBI today.

Mr. Norman Lamont

Does my right hon. Friend not agree that the plan put forward in the Labour Party's policy document for a compulsory prices policy and a voluntary wages policy is one of the surest ways of decreasing investment and of increasing unemployment?

The Prime Minister

I think that is undoubtedly true. The situation that we have is one in which we have reduced the rate of price increases by a half and we must now ensure that the pressure is not stoked up by inflationary wage increases.

Mr. James Hamilton

Will the right hon. Gentleman not concede that in the battle against inflation the trade union movement has shown its willingness to co-operate? Will he now take a decisive step forward and agree to the TUC recommendation that he should agree to the CBI and the TUC entering into conciliation procedure with the proviso that the Industrial Relations Act goes into cold storage, to find out whether the policy will work? Will the Prime Minister take a decisive step in this battle, which concerns every one of us?

The Prime Minister

As I understand the position, at the meeting last Thursday between the TUC and the CBI agreement was reached about the first stage of the conciliation procedure which they would organise among themselves. This does not require any assistance from the Government, and I understand that the agreement now goes to the governing bodies of both organisations for their approval.