HC Deb 29 June 1972 vol 839 cc1657-64
Q1. Mr. Duffy

asked the Prime Minister if he will place in the Library a copy of his public speech on prices and wages at the annual luncheon in London on 14th June, 1972, of members of the Press Association.

Q2. Mr. John D. Grant

asked the Prime Minister if he will place in the Library a copy of his public speech in London on 14th June to the Press Association annual luncheon, dealing with inflation.

Q3. Mr. Meacher

asked the Prime Minister if he will place in the Library a copy of his public speech on 14th June to the Press Association on prices and incomes policy.

Q4. Mr. John Smith

asked the Prime Minister if he will place in the Library a copy of his public speech to the Press Association on Wednesday, 14th June, 1972, about Government policies.

Q5. Mr. Atkinson

asked the Prime Minister if he will place in the Library a copy of his public speech to the Press Association about industrial relations on Wednesday, 14th June, 1972.

Q7. Mr. Redmond

asked the Prime Minister if he will place in the Library a copy of his public speech to the Press Association on 14th June on the subject of future wage demands.

Q8. Mr William Hamilton

asked the Prime Minister if he will place in the Library a copy of the public speech he made on 14th June to the Press Association on the need for an incomes policy.

Q9. Mr. Skinner

asked the Prime Minister if he will place in the Library a copy of his public speech made at the Press Association lunch on 14th June on incomes of low-paid workers.

Q10. Mr. Clinton Davis

asked the Prime Minister if he will place in the Library a copy of the public speech delivered by him to the Press Association in London on 14th June, 1972, on the subject of prices and incomes.

Q11. Mr. James Lamond

asked the Prime Minister if he will place in the Library a copy of his public speech to the Press Association on Government policies in London on 14th June.

Q12. Mr. Ashton

asked the Prime Minister whether he will place in the Library a copy of his public speech to the Press Association on 14th June on Government policies.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Edward Heath)

I did so on 15th June, Sir.

Mr. Duffy

Does not the right hon. Gentleman think that it was his failure on that occasion to say anything new or convincing about inflation which finally broke international confidence in sterling? If demonstrably legal control and free-for-all will not work for him, what does he propose to do to stop the continued descent of sterling, and what new can he say to the TUC representatives when he meets them on Tuesday which would have a chance of winning their consent and support for a national economic policy?

The Prime Minister

It would not be appropriate for me to discuss the contents of the talks which I am to have with the TUC on Tuesday.

Mr. Grant

Has the Prime Minister had time to look at the statistics released this morning which show that the average family budget last year rose by more than average earnings, which means that as a result of his policies there has been a cut in living standards for very many people? Will the right hon. Gentleman stop blaming the wage earners for all the ills of inflation? Will he accept and shoulder his own share of the responsibility, and will he respond to Mr. Vic Feather's words about the inflationary effects of the Industrial Relations Act? Will he shelve it?

The Prime Minister

I cannot accept the last point. In the last 12 months the rise in prices slowed to about 6 per cent. and earnings rose by over 11 per cent.

Mr. Redmond

In view of the tremendous interest shown by hon. Members on the Opposition side in my right hon. Friend's speech, may I ask him whether he has any evidence that any of them went to the Library to read it? If they did, did they notice that my right hon. Friend said in his speech that a real increase in wages can come from an increase in production? Is not that the best form of incomes policy?

The Prime Minister

I agree with what my hon. Friend has said; it is what I said in my speech. One of the things which should not be overlooked is that last year we had an increase of 5 per cent. or more in productivity.

Mr. Meacher

Since as a result of the Government's fiscal and welfare measures people with incomes of over £5,000 have each gained on average 51 times more than skilled wage earners on average, and since as a result of the Stock Exchange rise in the last 16 months they have each had on average a capital gain of a further £30,000 gross, how can the right hon. Gentleman seriously expect the trade unions to accept an incomes policy status quo built on that record of criminal unfairness?

The Prime Minister

I have learnt from long experience to have all the hon. Gentleman's figures checked before I comment on them. On the last part of his supplementary question, he should not perhaps overlook the immense interest of the trade union movement in the investment of its own funds.

Mr. Smith

As the Government's policy to contain inflation seems to consist principally of exhortation, will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House what he will do if in the next six months or so inflation continues to rise at its present rate and what changes in Government policy he will make to meet it? Secondly, what is he prepared to do by changing Government policy to gain a mood of co-operation from the trade union movement?

The Prime Minister

The first part of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question is completely at variance with what his own Front Bench has said. If we have indulged only in exhortation, why have we been so bitterly attacked by the Opposition Front Bench for the effect of the action we have taken to slow down the increase in prices?

Sir Harmar Nicholls

To stop the Order Paper being continually cluttered up with repetitive and pointless Questions, will my right hon. Friend put a copy of all his speeches in the Library, notify the Table Office that he has so done and make hon. Gentlemen opposite find another ploy?

The Prime Minister

It is the regular practice to put copies of all my speeches in the Library directly they have been made, and I intend to do so in the future. Every speech I make will be placed in the Library for the benefit of hon. Members.

Mr. Atkinson

We may have to raise a point of order on the comment that the Prime Minister has just made. To revert to his speech, is the Prime Minister aware that in the 150,000 shop stewards throughout the country there is an unpaid leadership in the trade union movement to whom he must direct attention in creating a spirit of co-operation in the trade union movement if he has serious ideas about setting up alternative conciliation services? To enable the discussions he is to have shortly to be meaningful, will the Prime Minister give the House an undertaking that a possible conciliation service about which he has spoken recently would be an alternative to the Industrial Relations Act? Will he say that he is fairly flexible in his approach and that he is not sticking to the idea that he will make no amendment at all to the Industrial Relations Act? If he can say this, there is a chance that he will influence trade union leadership.

The Prime Minister

I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman about the importance of the relationship of shop stewards to their unions and the part they must play in their present position in any question of conciliation or arbitration. Surely he would be the first to acknowledge that to the extent to which conciliation is successful—and it is still widely used by the Department of Employment—or can be successful under any arrangement to be devised by the TUC and CBI jointly, this will make unnecessary the use of certain Sections of the Industrial Relations Act.

Mr. Hamilton

Does not the speech, coupled with the action taken by the Chancellor of the Exchequer last week, confirm that the Government's economic policy is in one hell of a mess and that nothing the Prime Minister puts in the Library or anywhere else will prevent the calamity that is facing the nation? Is he aware that the more blocking answers he gives to Questions in the House the more visits he will be asked to make to every village in Britain, until he blocks that and says that he intends to sit on his backside in 10 Downing Street?

The Prime Minister

The matter of Questions is for the House. If the House wishes to put down repetitive Questions to the extent it does, that is a matter for the House, and I answer them. On economic policy the Government have played their part in many ways, most of them ways for which the TUC asked, the CBI has carried out its own policy of limiting price increases to 5 per cent. and the country is now entitled to expect that wage claims also will be reasonable.

Mr. Norman Lamont

Will my right hon. Friend give to the Leader of the Opposition a presentation copy of the latest report of the National Institute, and will he underline in pencil the article which suggests that, for every 1 per cent. the trade unions increase the going rate of inflation, employment opportunities diminish by 300,000 jobs? Does not this back up what my right hon. Friend has always said: that when hon. Gentlemen opposite urge inflationary wage settlements they are urging increased unemployment?

The Prime Minister

There are two reasons why it is unnecessary for me to present a copy of the Institute's article to the Leader of the Opposition. First, I have no doubt he has it already and, second, when he was Prime Minister he made on so many occasions the precise point in the Institute's article to which my hon. Friend has drawn attention.

Mr. Skinner

In view of the mess that the Government have created, may I encourage the Prime Minister to think of more pleasurable moments? Does he remember the halcyon days of last summer on the yacht when he was contemplating what he would do with the trade unions when he was armed with his Industrial Relations Act? Why does he not take another trip, preferably a long one, and have a word in the Queen's ear before he goes?

The Prime Minister

Why does not the hon. Gentleman give his trade union colleagues some sensible advice to the effect that if they want to improve the standard of living of and retain employment for their members they should pursue a reasonable wage policy?

Mr. Davis

Does the right hon. Gentleman consider that part of the justifiable suspicion which the trade unions have exhibited about the Government arises from the way in which they have conducted litigation against the trade unions? Would not one way of rectifying the position be to start by repudiating the Secretary of State for Employment, who gave the most doubtful testimony in the recent ASLEF case that he considered he had grounds for believing that the men were not behind their leaders?

The Prime Minister

No, Sir, the Government have not conducted litigation against trade unions. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] In asking for a cooling-off period the Government were acting in the interests of the community and not against the trade unions. One of the most important cases which has come before the National Industrial Relations Court has been that brought by members of a union against other members of the same union. The Government cannot be held responsible for that. If hon. Gentlemen opposite believe that individual trade unionists should be forced out of their jobs by members of the same union, let them stand up honestly and say so. Nobody in this country will believe that that is fair.

Mr. Tapsell

Is it not a sad reflection on the present state of the Labour Party that none of its members seems sufficiently concerned at the plight of those who live on fixed incomes or with the national interest generally to appeal for wage restraint?

The Prime Minister

Since the Labour Party has been in Opposition its members have done nothing but inspire higher wage claims and support every wage demand that has been made.

Mr. Lamond

Does the Prime Minister recall that in his speech on 14th June he mentioned that there had been one or two changes since he was Leader of the Opposition? Does he agree that among those changes are included raging inflation, catastrophic unemployment, chaotic industrial relations and now a dreadful financial crisis? Will the Prime Minister tell us which of those changes gives him most pleasure and pride?

The Prime Minister

That is an example of the grotesque exaggeration by which hon. Gentlemen opposite seek to damage their own country on every possible occasion.

Mr. Edward Taylor

Has my right hon. Friend found that his discussions with the Trades Union Congress have been made more difficult because of the recent memory of the previous Government introducing statutory measures to stop wage agreements which were voluntarily concluded between trade unions and employers?

The Prime Minister

Yes, my hon. Friend is entirely correct, as every hon. Member who is connected with a trade union knows. A great deal of the bitterness of the trade unions was due first to the compulsory freeze and then to the statutory policy imposed on them much against their will which, as many moderate leaders know, led only to extremists being elected to union office.

Mr. Ashton

In his speech to the journalists at the Savoy the Prime Minister congratulated them on their high standards of reporting but said he would welcome a higher level of abuse. Will he tell us why the level of abuse he is getting now is not good enough?

The Prime Minister

Because most of it comes from the party opposite.