HC Deb 22 March 1973 vol 853 cc652-4
Q3. Mr. Carter

asked the Prime Minister if, at any future meeting with President Nixon, he will discuss the prices and incomes policies of the USA and their possible application to the British economy.

The Prime Minister

The Government naturally keep themselves informed about the way in which the United States system operates. This was one of the points which I discussed with President Nixon during my recent visit to the United States and I also discussed it with Secretary Shultz both in Washington and earlier this week during his visit to London. However, our policy must be framed to meet the particular circumstances of the United Kingdom.

Mr. Carter

When the Prime Minister next meets the President of the United States, will he discuss with him the minimum income laws as they apply in the United States? I agree that they are not perfect, but will the right hon. Gentleman accept that the only way in which the lot of the underpaid and low-paid can be permanently satisfied in the long term is by the introduction of a minimum wage into the British economy—a wage of not less than £25 for a 40-hour week?

The Prime Minister

As I have said, we discussed the question of minimum earnings with the TUC in the tripartite talks. There was a general view that it would be unwise to try to institute a minimum wage law at this moment of time, particularly at the level the hon. Gentleman suggested, largely because it was thought that in many industries, particularly those covered by wages councils, it would not be possible to move to that figure or even others, which were discussed in one go, by passing legislation. Therefore, it was generally agreed by the TUC, the employers and the Government that we should endeavour to bring up the lower-paid as rapidly as we can, and by voluntary agreement.

Mr. Body

Does the Prime Minister agree that an essential part of President Nixon's proposals was a reduction in public expenditure?

The Prime Minister

That was not a central part, and was not connected with the prices and incomes policy. The President introduced a prices and incomes policy on 15th August 1971 and has now moved into stage 3. At this stage he has reduced his Government expenditure.

Mr. Edwin Wainwright

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the Government's policies have now widened the breach between the trade union movement and his Government? Does he not think that it is now time that he wiped away all the existing laws which have caused the breach and got together with the TUC to start again on industrial relations?

The Prime Minister

No, Sir; I cannot agree anything of the sort. I do not believe that the breach, if such there be, between the TUC and the Government has been widened by the law. There is a wide range of issues on which we are constantly having discussions with the TUC. I regret that the TUC, on its own decision, did not take part in the discussions on stage 2. I hope that it will do so on stage 3.

Mr. Kinsey

Has the Prime Ministers attention been drawn to the fact that food prices in America are bearing heavily on United States counter-inflationary policy and, indeed, throughout the world? Will he consider instigating an international conference on food prices to see what can be done to bear down on world inflation?

The Prime Minister

It is true that the United States is suffering from increases in food prices, as are Europe and the United Kingdom. The United States Government have released large stocks which were being held and in addition have put 60 million acres of land into production in an endeavour to meet world requirements. I have no doubt that we, as well as other countries, will benefit.