HC Deb 06 February 1973 vol 850 cc223-6
Q3. Mr. Norman Lamont

asked the Prime Minister what plans he has for a meeting with the TUC.

Q5. Mr. Strang

asked the Prime Minister what plans he now has to have further discussions with both sides of industry about the third phase of the Government's policy on inflation.

The Prime Minister

I have made it clear that we are willing to continue our discussions with the TUC and the CBI, both about the code and more generally about the subsequent stage of the policy.

Mr. Lamont

Is there not a common interest between the TUC and the Government in the achieving of a phase 3 which is as flexible as possible and in which collective bargaining has a very important part to play? Is this not likely to be made possible only with trade union co-operation in making phase 2 a success? Do not the reports from the AUEW of declining membership and dissatisfaction with Mr. Scanlon's leadership show that many trade unionists are fed up with the ostrich-like attitude adopted by the unions with no regard for the interests of the community?

The Prime Minister

I do not wish to comment on the affairs of one trade union or its leader. I can assure my hon. Friend absolutely that there is every advantage to be gained by both the TUC and the employers in having discussions with the Government about the forthcoming stage 2 and then, as soon as they like, about stage 3. I think that as both employers and unions quite rightly, claim to have an important part to play in our national life, there is no justification for opting out of carrying on discussions with the Government when they have been offered.

Mr. Strang

Since food prices rose at the staggering annual rate of 14 per cent. during the first two months of the freeze, may I ask the Prime Minister to reconsider his decision to make no attempt to control the price of basic foodstuffs? Is the price of bread to be increased during phase 2 or phase 3? Finally, will the Prime Minister take this opportunity of apologising to the House for the highly misleading, if not devious and disreputable, reply that he gave to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition on 20th January when he said that a certain Press briefing on phase 3 did not take place, when he should have said that it took place on Friday, not Saturday?

The Prime Minister

On the last point, I said that no such briefing had taken place. I was dealing with a specific point which had been raised that the policy in stage 3 was said to be tougher. I have twice explained to the House exactly the relationship between wage and price increases. The present standstill has been very effective indeed over the whole range of manufactured prices, including manufactured foodstuffs. The House is well aware of the problems of individual rising prices of foodstuffs because of the world position.

Sir D. Walker-Smith

Has my right hon. Friend had, or does he propose to have when more immediately urgent matters have been dealt with, any discussion or consultation with the TUC about its attitude to workers' participation in a possible two-tier company structure on the assumption that such is likely to be incorporated into British law perhaps before very long?

The Prime Minister

We have not had any specific discussion about this matter so far with the TUC. When the Chequers talks first began I suggested that they should broaden out and cover much wider questions, such as that which my right hon. and learned Friend has mentioned. I have always said to trade union leaders over the past 15 years that I believe the trade unions have a very important part to play in affecting the general running of their firms and industries, making them more efficient and improving the prospects for all who work in them. The particular proposal which my right hon. and learned Friend mentioned is one of those.

Mr. Spearing

Is the Prime Minister aware that under phase 2 hospital ancillary workers have been offered an increase of £1.86 a week but that under phase I they would have been entitled to £2? Will he, unlike his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, tell the House why this is a fair do and why he expects co-operation with his policy?

The Prime Minister

I confess that I am slightly mystified by the hon. Gentleman's point. I am prepared to examine any point regarding the hospital workers, but there is a complete standstill under stage 1. The £2 was the original Chequers offer. As the House knows, this was not accepted by the TUC, and since then the situation has changed. We have now got the standstill and we are moving into stage 2 in which we have worked out the figure which will best deal with inflation and at the same time take account of price increases.