HC Deb 23 November 1972 vol 846 cc1512-5
Q1. Mr. Norman Lamont

asked the Prime Minister when he next plans to meet representatives of the Trades Union Congress to discuss the economy.

Q2. Mr. Leslie Huckfield

asked the Prime Minister what further discussions he has arranged with the Trades Union Congress and Confederation of British Industry on the second part of his policy for containing inflation.

Q11. Dr. Vaughan

asked the Prime Minister when he hopes to renew talks with the representatives of the Trades Union Congress and the Confederation of British Industry.

Q12. Mr. Ewing

asked the Prime Minister what further discussions he has had with the Trades Union Congress and the Confederation of British Industry regarding the economic situation.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Edward Heath)

As I told the House on 21st November, I am ready to meet the TUC and the CBI either together or separately at any time.

Mr. Lamont

Following yesterday's lobby of the House of Commons, is not the most valuable social service that could be provided to elderly people a slowing down of the rate of inflation? If the trade unions want to do something for elderly people, can they not use their influence against inflationary wage settlements and, in particular, against a thoroughly petulant and unnecessary strike action by ASLEF?

The Prime Minister

In the tripartite discussions the TUC said that it fully agreed that one of the main purposes of dealing with inflation was to help the old-age pensioners and those living on small fixed incomes. We, for our part, said that if we were able to get a voluntary arrangement which dealt with inflation we would, when reviewing pensions in the spring for the uprating next autumn, take this fully into account so that pensioners could share in the increased prosperity which came from it. As a further sign of our good intentions we also said that we would make the lump sum payment for which the House is now making provision.

Mr. Huckfield

Is the Prime Minister aware that nobody will take him seriously on the subject of inflation while he continues to try to buy off pensioners by £10 donations on polling day, and continues with his hoax of telephone numbers for price increases? Will he not realise that nobody will take him and his sincerity seriously until he introduces a policy of statutory control of all prices and makes the single pension £10 a week immediately?

The Prime Minister

I do not think the pensioners take the same view of the £10 bonus as the hon. Gentleman takes. This is certainly reflected in their letters to me and, I believe, in what they have said to hon. Members. Any permanent arrangements will depend on the review in the spring, and on the uprating.

Dr. Vaughan

Will the Prime Minister bear in mind that the numbers out of work fell by 72,000 between September and October this year, and that the present Government have now put the unemployment figures on to a proper and realistic basis?

The Prime Minister

The unemployment figures which are published today are set out in a new formula, and I am sure that those who want to make a judgment of these matters will agree that it shows an improvement and is much clearer. The figures show a decrease of 22,510 between October and November, and I am sure that that will be welcome news to hon. Members in all parts of the House. It is the biggest fall for 20 years for Great Britain between October and November, and the biggest fall for the United Kingdom between those two months since the series began.

Mr. Ewing

Will the Prime Minister explain how he expects the Trades Union Congress to have confidence in him or in any of his Ministers when it sees a Bill passed through this House with complete disregard for the lower-paid, such as farm workers and others? How can the TUC have confidence in the Prime Minister? When the Prime Minister meets the TUC will he continue to honour his promise, given in the White Paper of July, 1971, to protect the pensioner and the low-paid worker from the effects of entry into the Common Market?

The Prime Minister

That is the whole purpose of the tripartite talks. The agreement reached at the beginning was to help the low-paid worker, and the proposals that we put forward clearly do that. I quite understood if some higher-paid workers said that it was not acceptable to them. But that was its purpose, and it was widely welcomed throughout the country.

Mr. Wilkinson

May I remind my right hon. Friend that the unemployment figures in Northern Ireland have gone down by about 6,000 in 12 months? Is not this a remarkable tribute to the resilience of the Northern Irish people and the co-operation of the Northern Ireland trade union movement at this especially difficult time?

The Prime Minister

I agree with my hon. Friend—and there has been a further decrease between October and November. This is very welcome and it indicates— as I saw on my visit last week—that many factories in Northern Ireland are working full out and extraordinarily well.

Mr. Harold Wilson

In view of what happened in the City yesterday and the intervention of the Bank of England in relation to interest rates, which must sooner or later affect mortgage rates, will the right hon. Gentleman say whether it is the Government's policy, during this freeze, to increase interest rates or to keep them stable?

The Prime Minister

The policy of this Government is the same as that of the right hon. Gentleman and his Government in similar circumstances. Interest rates must be used as a means of managing the economy and the money supply.

Mr. Harold Wilson

Will the right hon. Gentleman now answer the question? Does he know the answer? If so, will he tell us? Is it the Government's policy to increase interest rates during the freeze or to stabilise them?

The Prime Minister

It is the policy of the Government to use interest rates for the control of the economy. The right hon. Gentleman did not stabilise interest rates during his period and he gave no undertaking to do so, either.

Mr. Harold Wilson

Is the Prime Minister aware that during the statutory freeze there was no increase in interest rates? I simply want to ask the right hon. Gentleman—since he has imposed a freeze and since it will affect mortgage rates and, therefore, millions of families in the country—whether it is the Government's policy, accepting what the right hon. Gentleman says about the money supply, to stabilise interest rates or to increase them during the freeze? Will he answer that question now?

The Prime Minister

I give the right hon. Gentleman the same plain answer, which is that if it is necessary to change interest rates to control the money supply, the Government, through the banking system, will do it.

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