HC Deb 15 May 1973 vol 856 cc1241-4
Q6. Mr. Dykes

asked the Prime Minister if he will make a further statement on his plans for renewed talks with the TUC and CBI on countering inflation.

Q9. Mr. Norman Lamont

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

The Prime Minister

I welcome the decisions of the CBI and the TUC to take part in the discussions which I have proposed. I shall be meeting the TUC on 17th May and the CBI on 30th May.

Mr. Dykes

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, as everyone now understands that Britain is enjoying an unprecedented even sensational economic boom exceeding all previous post-war growth rates, there is an increasing realisation among trade unionists, official and unofficial, that the essential priority of the rate of economic growth should not be jeopardised by excessive wage inflation in phase 3?

The Prime Minister

Yes, I think there is a general realisation of this. I ask my hon. Friend to recognise that for this country to have an average rate of growth of 5 per cent. is not a boom condition or something that is outstanding for a Western industrial country. It is less than half the growth rate of Japan for the last 16 years. It is less than the average growth rate of many of our European partners. I hope, therefore, that we shall keep this in balance. At the same time, we should be reassured by the fact that the figures of industrial production put out earlier today show an increase of one and a half points for March over February, that the increase in total output between the second half of 1971 and the latest three months is nearly 6 per cent., adjusted to an annual rate of growth, and that for manufacturing alone there is a corresponding increase of about 6½ per cent. These are very encouraging figures, but our task now is to ensure that they are sustained.

Mr. Ashley

How does the Prime Minister justify the double standard of constantly refusing to intervene in the great national scandals of big business, whether due to the damage caused by defective products or the dubious morality in boardrooms, while he constantly intervenes and moralises about the legitimate wage claims of trade unions? Where is the logic of that attitude?

The Prime Minister

I have never advocated defective products, nor unethical matters in boardrooms. Indeed, in my speech at Perth on Saturday afternoon I specifically condemned the latter and I do so in this House now. If there are products which are defective, we have laws under which those responsible can be brought to account. If the hon. Gentleman has any examples of where the law is defective in this respect, it can be dealt with by the Department of Trade and Industry. As for the procedures in boardrooms, they can when brought to light be examined by the Department concerned from the point of view of either tax or company law, which in any case we propose to modernise in the next Session.

Mr. Adam Butler

Bearing in mind the important, indeed the essential, rôle which productivity deals have to play in maintaining economic growth, will my right hon. Friend listen favourably to representations made to him by the TUC and CBI on this point for implementation in phase 3?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir. We are fully prepared to discuss with the TUC and CBI the question of productivity arrangements if they wish to raise them. In any case we shall wish to raise them ourselves in phase 3. It is well known that a number of trade union leaders have pointed to the opportunities of introducing so-called productivity arrangements which do not justify themselves. What they said to us during the Chequers talks was that this causes bitterness between unions and workers because they regard it as unfair that there should be a productivity arrangement which is not justified. Therefore, it would be necessary to work out with them, and perhaps with others who can give us advice, what would be the best form of justifiable productivity arrangements.

Mr. Grimond

When the Prime Minister talks to the CBI, will he ask it to condemn unequivocally the sort of goings on that we have all read about at Lonrho which are fatal to any counter-inflation policy? Will he also point out to the CBI that greed does not now seem to be a monopoly of the trade unions?

The Prime Minister

It would not be necessary for me to ask the CBI to make a statement of that kind, and as a responsible body it should be prepared to make its own statement. I hope that the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) will not exaggerate to the extent of saying that an incident of this kind is fatal to the counter-inflation policy. It is the unpleasant and unacceptable face of capitalism, but one should not suggest that the whole of British industry consists of practices of this kind.

Mr. Bruce-Gardyne

Will the Prime Minister assure the House that he will show no enthusiasm whatever for the bizarre attitude of Mr. Campbell Adam-son in desiring to see a repetition of the publication of the ill-fated National Plan?

The Prime Minister

I was not aware that that was Mr. Campbell Adamson's view. It is not a matter which he has put to us, but should the matter be raised I will bear in mind what my hon. Friend has said.

Mr. Jay

Does the Prime Minister's answer mean that he is no more prepared to change his mind about what he calls political issues in discussion with the TUC than he was last year?

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Member cannot have listened to what I said. The other accusation that is made by Labour Members is that by having discussions with the TUC and CBI and in reaching agreements we were forming a so-called corporate State to overrule Parliament. I have specifically safeguarded Parliament's position in all the talks we have had by saying that legislation has been passed by Parliament. We are prepared to consider the economic consequences on workers and employers of what is done. Indeed, we have gone further because we have asked for the fullest consultation before any future legislation is passed, such as the codes under the statutory policy.

Mr. Harold Wilson

Although we now understand that the Prime Minister has made the position clear by saying that he will listen with an open mind, does he mean by the use of the words he used a moment or two ago that he will only consider the consequences of his legislation, or does he mean—and did the Lord President mean—that on the question of the repeal or standstill of the housing legislation he is prepared not only to listen to what is said on that matter but to act upon it?

The Prime Minister

No, Sir. I am not prepared to repeal the Housing Finance Act, because there is a great body of trade union opinion which believes that it is the right policy to help those who need it and that those who are the higher paid workers can fully afford to pay a fair rent. It was a policy which the Labour Government followed, and when the trade unions say that they wish to help the lower paid I believe them to be in earnest. The way to do it is to help the lower paid to pay their rents and to see that this is done by rent rebates. Those who are getting high wages in our economy can well afford to pay the rent.