HC Deb 20 July 1972 vol 841 cc900-3
Q2. Mr. St. John-Stevas

asked the Prime Minister when he next proposes to chair a meeting of the National Economic Development Council.

Q3. Mr. Redmond

asked the Prime Minister when he will next take the Chair at the National Economic Development Council.

The Prime Minister

I have no immediate plans to take the chair at a normal monthly meeting. However, following the special meeting at 10 Downing Street on 18th July, another such meeting has been arranged for 25th July at which I propose to take the chair.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. In view of the CBI's undertaking yesterday to continue its policy of price restraint, would not this be the moment to bring to the attention of the TUC, which has shown real concern for the public interest at this moment, that excessive wage increases are self-defeating as they serve only to raise the cost of living?

The Prime Minister

That is so. That was one of the matters which was discussed last Tuesday.

Mr. Redmond

We have a situation in which production is rising, unemployment is falling—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—the trend of the unemployment figures is in the right direction—prices are beginning to stabilise and the CBI has continued its initiative. Is it not time to welcome the TUC's willingness to talk rather than to indulge in party politics, of which, I admit, I have been as guilty as anybody?

The Prime Minister

I welcome these talks. The fact that we are having the next meeting a week after the original meeting shows that the parties taking part in the discussions are seriously debating the issues and endeavouring to find solutions to them. The House should take account of the fact that the unemployment figures include approximately 29,000 students who have gone on the register for vacation employment. That is not a matter which one can take into account when considering the running of the economy. There is a very large number of students who could register if they were so minded.

Mr. James Hamilton

Will the Prime Minister tell the CBI and the TUC, when he meets them, that the unemployment figures do not take into account school leavers and, therefore, do not give a true picture of the number of unemployed? Will he relate to the CBI that the 5 per cent. ceiling on price increases which it has recommended is not strictly valid because the CBI does not have the teeth to implement it? There have been increases in prices in most cases and on that basis the trade union movement is justified in pursuing a wages policy.

The Prime Minister

I should have thought that one of the outstanding features was that the CBI has policed its prices policy, and it has done so very effectively. Nobody has claimed that the CBI is responsibile for the whole range of prices because obviously there are certain prices for services which are outside its scope as many of the organisation providing services are not members of the CBI. But the increase in prices over the year of about 6 per cent. shows a great decrease in the rate of price increases.

Dr. Vaughan

Have not the Government already done a great many of the things for which the TUC has asked—growth, employment, pensions and a whole list of others—and has not the CBI also been extremely co-operative? Is not the country now entitled to a great degree of co-operation from the TUC?

The Prime Minister

That is what we are discussing at the meetings between the Government, the CBI and the TUC.

Mr. Ross

Before the Prime Minister goes to the meeting, will he consult the Department of Employment, where he will learn that, according to the latest figures available, the number of wholly unemployed, excluding school leavers and adult students, after seasonal adjustment, has increased by 5,000? We would rather have reality, with the Government facing the grave situation, than dodging and using selected and unreal figures.

The Prime Minister

The facts I have stated are the case, as the right hon. Gentleman has just confirmed. I did not say that the students represented the total increase. I said that what must be taken into account is that they are a large part of it; 29,000 out of the increase is a very substantial proportion.

Mr. Baxter

Is the Prime Minister aware that we should all welcome a 5 per cent. stabilisation of prices by the CBI, but only a fortnight ago I received a letter in my office to the effect that the price of bricks has gone up by 16 per cent. Is not this 5 per cent. ceiling just a lot of eyewash and window-dressing?

The Prime Minister

No, Sir. I do not accept that the one instance quoted by the hon. Gentleman shows that the general policy has not been implemented. The fact that it has been implemented is shown by the change in the retail price index.

Mr. Harold Wilson

In view of the right hon. Gentleman's praise for the CBI, taking into account rebates as well as unrebated increases, will he undertake that the increase in council house rents will be no more than 5 per cent. over the next year?

The Prime Minister

No Sir, certainly not.—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—the reason is that this policy includes the rebate system to help the lower-paid workers. It is a deliberate policy that council house tenants who can afford to pay a fair rent—and the right hon. Gentleman implemented a fair rent policy in his time—should do so, and those who need rebates will get them.

Mr. Wilson

The right hon. Gentleman may have misheard my question. Allowing for rebates as well as unrebated increases, will he undertake that the average increase, rebated and unrebated, is within the 5 per cent.? If not, does he not agree that this is a policy of deliberate inflation of prices?

The Prime Minister

I cannot guarantee that, for the simple reason that the scheme is carried out by the local authorities—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh".]—and what the increases and rebates are will depend on the circumstances in each local authority.—[Interruption.]—I know that hon. Gentlemen are not prepared to be rational about this in any way. The circumstances of each local authority vary, and the extent to which rents are put up and the extent to which rebates apply will depend on the circumstances of the local authority. The right hon. Gentleman knows that, and it is sheer hypocrisy to pretend otherwise.

Mr. Wilson rose

Mr. Speaker

Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles—next Question.