§ Q2. Mr. St. John-Stevas
asked the Prime Minister whether he will state the number of official meetings he has had with the Trades Union Congress and the Confederation of British Industry since the end of June.
§ Q3. Sir Gilbert Longden
asked the Prime Minister if he will make a statement on his latest meeting with the Trades Union Congress.
§ Q4. Mr. Vaughan
asked the Prime Minister whether he will state the number of official meetings he has had separately with the Trades Union Congress and with the Trades Union Congress together with the Confederation of British Industry since the end of June.
§ Q5. Mr. Redmond
asked the Prime Minister if he will state the number of official meetings he has had separately with the Trades Union Congress and with the Trades Union Congress together with the Confederation of British Industry since the end of June.
§ Mr. R. Carr
I have been asked to reply.
My right hon. Friend has held two meetings with representatives of the TUC separately and six meetings in the tripartite series with the CBI and TUC since the end of June. I would refer my hon. Friends to the statement which my right. hon. Friend made on his latest meeting with the TUC and CBI in reply to a Question from the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) on 17th October.—[Vol. 843, c. 21–5.]
§ Mr. St. John-Stevas
Can my right hon. Friend assure us that despite the unhelp- 446 ful reaction of some of the electricity unions and also of some hon. Members on the Opposition side, who apparently gave Mr. Feather a rough ride last night, the Government will press on in the national interest with their policy lot prices and incomes? Can he also tell us something about the machinery that is intended to monitor it?
§ Mr. Carr
I will deal with the last point first. There are meetings going on not only between the principals on the announced dates but also between their staffs on these questions, particularly including the machinery which might be devised for monitoring both prices and pay. That is recognised by all as being a very important part of the problem. I assure my hon. Friend that the Government will press on. We believe, as Mr. Feather said of the TUC representatives also, that it is right to make a determined and constructive effort to reach agreement, and I am sure that, from whatever quarter it might come, the public would not take kindly any attempt to get in the way of that agreement.
§ Mr. Ashton
Will the right hon. Gentleman ask the Prime Minister before the next meeting to work out a simple piece of arithmetic—that £2 less tax is only "30 bob", that many trade unionists have had to pay £1 extra in rent, and that the other "10 bob" is not enough to cover value added tax, increased food prices and all the extra inflation which the Government have caused?
§ Mr. Carr
It cannot be denied that pay in the last year, for example, has risen substantially more than prices in almost every sector of the community. As to the arithmetic, I think the hon. Gentleman can be content that the trade union representatives will be doing their arithmetic together with the Government and the CBI. I think the House will be well advised to leave the parties to do the arithmetic until the talks come to a conclusion, and then we must judge the results at that stage.
§ Sir Gilbert Longden
Mention has been made of some help for retirement pensioners. While appreciating that they have more to gain than any other section of the community from stable prices, may I ask whether my right hon. Friend is in a position to quantify the benefit contemplated for them?
§ Mr. Carr
I am not in a position to quantify the benefit at this moment, but I remind my hon. Friend that, apart from these talks, we have undertaken to make an annual review of pensions. In the context of these talks and the Government's proposals resulting from them, pensioners were specifically mentioned. No one has more to gain from a better control of inflation than the pensioners and all others on small incomes.
§ Dr. Summerskill
Have the Government had discussions at Chequers concerning the implementation of the Equal Pay Act in view of the fact that the Act embodies a statutory incomes policy for women? Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that one-third of the labour force consists of women, the majority of them falling into the category of the low paid?
§ Mr. Carr
I assure the hon. Lady that the implications of the Equal Pay Act are very much part of the discussions that are going on. Of course, as she will realise, in any policy which is deliberately designed over the next 12 months to help the lower paid, women are an important part of that category.
§ Mr. Redmond
Will my right hon. Friend spell out clearly what would be the results of the alternative policy that is sometimes advocated—the restriction of the money supply? What effect would that have on investment and the unemployment figures?
§ Mr. Carr
The Government rightly feel that there is no simple answer to these problems. Those who put forward what they regard as simple answers—restriction of money supply is not by any means the only one, because others have been put forward—do not take account of the realities of life or at least of the severe short-term effects of putting such policies into operation.
§ Mr. David Stoddart
Will the right hon. Gentleman make clear that he does not concur with the mischievous remarks made by the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) about the electricity supply workers? Will the right hon. Gentleman inform the House that the reason why the electricity workers are contemplating action is that the electricity boards, under instructions from 448 the Prime Minister, as they say, refuse to negotiate on a legitimate claim?
§ Mr. Carr
I certainly cannot accept what the hon. Gentleman said in the latter part of that supplementary question or, indeed, that what my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. JohnStevas) said was intended to be mischievous. What I do know is that the unions in the electricity supply industry have agreed to meet again on Friday of next week, which is after the next tripartite meeting. I believe that is the wise course to take. In their action yesterday, the electricity council's management representatives were of course complying with a request by the Government in a communique issued with the general agreement of all parties to the tripartite talks—namely, an appeal to everyone in the public and private sectors to take no action on wages and prices, and to make no offers or settlements, pending the results of the talks, which might prejudice their successful outcome.