HC Deb 24 July 1973 vol 860 cc1404-7
Q4. Mr. Adley

asked the Prime Minister if he will make a statement on his latest talks with the CBI and TUC.

The Prime Minister

I have nothing to add to the reply which I gave to the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Atkinson) on 19th July.—[Vol. 860, c. 203.]

Mr. Adley

Whilst recognising the electoral popularity and political attraction of worker participation, may I ask my right hon. Friend whether he agrees that, if closer liaison between management and its work force is to be meaningful, it should be two-way participation? Will my right hon. Friend, when he next meets the TUC, discuss with it the possibility of management participation in the day-today affairs of trade unions in relevant companies?

The Prime Minister

I think that worker participation, which covers a wide range of activities in firms, is not a matter of interfering in management. It would therefore not be appropriate to say that management should interfere with or take a part in trade unions. What is required is that the two parties should discuss, and be as fully informed as possible about, the affairs of a company. In that way they can each contribute to the improvement and effectiveness of a company.

Mr. Atkinson

Will the Prime Minister make it clear to the House whether the Government will insist upon the trade unions accepting threshold agreements as a precedent to any further talks? Secondly, will he accept that it is an economic contradiction to rule out subsidies and price regulation while at the same time insisting upon threshold agreements?

The Prime Minister

What I said in my speech in the debate was that the Government would propose to both parties that threshold agreements should become part of the arrangements for stage 3 because we believe that that would be a valuable safeguard for everybody working in this country.

Of course the talks will go on. Each side is able to put forward proposals of this kind to try to achieve the aim of the talks. It is our intention to look at the picture as a whole. I do not see any contradiction of the kind which the hon. Gentleman suggests. We have, in any case, price regulation in this country.

Mr. Hugh Fraser

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the extreme danger hi threshold agreements is that they institutionalise inflation and make the maximum the automatic minimum? Surely it would be better to look at productivity agreements rather than threshold agreements, which automatically mean inflation permanently installed.

The Prime Minister

The two matters are not mutually exclusive. I agree with my right hon. Friend that if threshold agreements are badly constructed the danger to which he refers exists. When this matter was first raised more than two years ago, that was the reason why it was remitted to "Neddy" for examination by the three parties. A great deal of work has been done since then, and I think that the TUC, the CBI and the Government are agreed that it is possible to construct threshold agreements that are valuable safeguards but not in themselves inflationary. Productivity agreements are a major item for discussion in these talks, and we recognise the importance that is attached to them.

Dr. Gilbert

When will the right hon. Gentleman be able to tell the TUC that the Price Commission will do something about bank profits? I ask that question in the light of the fact that the overwhelming proportion of the record increase in bank profits has come not from invisible exports but from gouging-out of the ordinary individual who happens to be in debt to the bank as a result of the Government's monetary and fiscal policies.

The Prime Minister

If the hon. Gentleman isaware of the terms of reference of the Price Commission and of the price code, he will know that there are full powers to act in the matter. The banks' profits have just been published. The Price Commission has full power to act. The controls since the standstill apply to dividends.

Mr. Prentice

Are we to take it from the Prime Minister's reply and from his speech last week that the concept of threshold agreements is the only new initiative being proposed by the Government in the talks? If that is so, and if the Government are sticking to all the other policies which have contributed so much to inflation, does not that lend force to the view that the Government do not really seek agreement in the talks and that they are treating them as a public relations exercise?

The Prime Minister

Nothing of the sort. There is no point in the right hon. Gentleman and Opposition Members trying to discredit the talks. Neither the CBI nor the TUC has any intention of doing so. They are absolutely genuine in the part they are playing in the talks, and so are we.

The right hon. Gentleman asked whether any new initiatives are to come forward. That is a matter for the talks themselves. I took this specific initiative to tell the House before we go on to the next stage that it is a matter to which all three parties attach great importance. As to the rest, they will come forward in the rest of the talks.

Mr. Adley

I used the word "participation and not" interference "in my supplementary question to the Prime Minister.