HC Deb 27 July 1972 vol 841 cc2051-3
Q3. Mr. Meacher

asked the Prime Minister if he will make a statement on his official talks with the Trade Unions Congress National Economic Development Council Group on policies regarding inflation.

Q9. Mr. Skinner

asked the Prime Minister what further discussions he intends to have with Trades Union Congress leaders resulting from the National Economic Development Council joint talks.

The Prime Minister

I would refer the hon. Members to the answer I gave on 25th July to the hon. Members for Nuneaton (Mr. Leslie Huckfield) and Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley).—[Vol. 841, c. 282.]

Mr. Meacher

Following the Law Lords' decision yesterday, is not the Prime Minister aware that a policy of undermining the trade unions' power by exposing them to crippling and punitive fines is inconsistent with the obtaining of a voluntary accommodation from the TUC in income restraint? Does the Prime Minister want to continue his legal confrontation with the unions or to reduce inflation—because he will not get both?

The Prime Minister

I do not know what status the hon. Gentleman has to speak for the TUC. But the TUC has been having these discussions with me. It told me on Monday that it intended to defer them until the question of the five dockers was settled. I have now invited the TUC to resume our discussions, and I look forward to a favourable answer.

Mr. Skinner

Since we now take it for granted that the Prime Minister cannot discuss growth and inflation with the TUC without discussing the vexed question of industrial relations, would not it be a better idea to take the Official Solicitor along as well? Does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that most reasonable people take the view that if we are to have controversy, industrial dispute and what have you for a few weeks and then the Official Solicitor has to come in to sort the matter out, it would be better if he were there from the beginning? Why not give him a job in the Cabinet?

The Prime Minister

My discussions with the TUC are not concerned with the Industrial Relations Act but with questions of the economy. That is why I have invited its representatives to have further discussions.

Captain Elliot

Does not my right hon. Friend agree that the fostering of growth and the containment of inflation is as much in the interests of the TUC and the unions as of anyone else? Is not it extraordinary for the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) to suggest that the TUC would not want to discuss these matters?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir, and a large section of very responsible opinion in the TUC recognises this fully.

Mr. Harold Wilson

Is the Prime Minister aware—because this will inevitably come up in any talks which are held—that the Jones-Aldington Report, which the House has now seen, contains a first-class set of proposals designed to remove the anxieties of the dock working community which many of us in this House have the honour to represent through our constituents, and that we consider that the report should be accepted and put into effect? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware, further, that the reason why it has not been accepted so far is the poison which has been injected into the atmosphere by the events of the past week including the attitudes manifested in his arrogant broadcast last night?

The Prime Minister

I am not surprised at the last part of the right hon. Gentleman's remarks because I heard from those who were present with him watching it exactly how upset he was by it. I will not reveal anything more about the right hon. Gentleman's behaviour. I welcome what he said about the Jones-Aldington Report. I myself stated this in the House during the debate and that the Government were prepared to provide the finance for it so long as there was a return to work in the docks. But I cannot accept the right hon. Gentleman's explanation of why it was rejected. When I read on the tape of those who cheered and danced outside Transport House when they heard that there was to be a dock strike, it seems to me that these are also the same sort of people who refused to accept a request for a truce in their attempt to bully the firm concerned and to get rid of people from another union.

Mr. Harold Wilson

If the Prime Minister had a report from the Chancellor of the Exchequer of what happened in the hospitality room of Thames Television when he was broadcasting, the Chancellor might have reported that I indicated to him that I thought that he was among those outside Pentonville Prison cheering the release, because obviously the Chancellor was pleased by the intervention of the Official Solicitor. As for the Prime Minister's broadcast, I hope that, as a matter of courtesy, I concealed from the Chancellor my utter horror about the attitude that the right hon. Gentleman was showing.

Mr. Grimond

May I assure the Prime Minister that I was spared his broadcast? Nevertheless, I too, welcome the Jones-Aldington Report. When the Prime Minister is talking to both the trade unions and the CBI, will he discuss the question of differentials? It seems to be quite unnecessary that, because lower-paid workers get a rise of 5 or 6 per cent., everyone else must also get it, going right to the top of the salary scale. Surely it is necessary to find a way of increasing the standard of living of lower-paid workers without adding to the top salaries?

The Prime Minister

This was a major item of discussion at our last meeting, and it was agreed to discuss it further at our next meeting. In the meantime, detailed work has been done on it.