HC Deb 03 December 1974 vol 882 cc1328-31
4. Mr. Stanley

asked the Secretary of State for Employment whether it is his policy that those who are not parties to the social contract should regard themselves bound by its provisions.

Mr. Booth

As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made clear in his broadcast to the nation on 14th October, our problems can be solved only by a partnership between the Government and all the people of this country, and there can be no opting out by individual groups from the responsibilities which face all of us.

Mr. Stanley

Will the Minister confirm that he has obliquely suggested that the social contract is binding on everybody? If that is the case, will he tell the House what is the constitutional justification for basing a general policy of wage restraint upon a document which has been published by a single interest outside Parliament, which has never been submitted to Parliament, has never been approved by Parliament, and upon which Ministers are reluctant to comment in any detail in Parliament?

Mr. Booth

As we have made clear, the social contract is not an agreement solely between politicians and trade unions. It was a concept, and had a programme of implications, spelt out clearly in the manifestoes with which we fought two General Elections this year, and upon which we were returned on both occasions—on the second occasion by a majority.

Mr. Tugendhat

Surely the Minister will agree that he has not answered my hon. Friend's question. His colleagues at the Labour Party conference have made it absolutely clear that the social contract is the central point of the Government's economic policy. Therefore, it is not good enough that something which is the central point of the Government's economic policy should be negotiated between the Government and only one section of the community. By what possible right does the Minister expect the rest of the country to provide the kind of backing needed for this contract if he will not negotiate with them on a par with his own trade union movement?

Mr. Booth

The hon. Gentleman refers to only one aspect of the social contract. The social contract has many aspects which require Government administration and legislation, as well as those which rely on voluntary policies. Those matters which require legislation are submitted to the House and those which require voluntary action are discussed with the appropriate bodies outside the House.

5. Mr. Sillars

asked the Secretary of State for Employment when he next hopes to meet groups in industry who are concerned with the social contract.

53. Mr. Peter Morrison

asked the Secretary of State for Employment whether he intends to meet those groups who are parties to the social contract; and, if so, when.

The Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Michael Foot)

I am regularly in touch with people in industry who are concerned with one aspect or another of the social contract.

Mr. Sillars

When my right hon. Friend meets these people again will he confirm that the concept of the social contract is not just about wages, but that part of the social contract is the Labour Government's commitment to change the nature and character of this society? Therefore, will my right hon. Friend and the Cabinet review their contribution to the social contract and perhaps speed up some of the policies, such as those dealing with the wealth tax and the National Enterprise Board?

Mr. Foot

I fully agree with my hon. Friend that the social contract covers a much wider aspect than questions of wage negotiations. It covers all the matters to which my hon. Friend referred and many others besides. We are this afternoon proceeding with a Bill which is directly designed to assist the social contract. I agree with my hon. Friend that the sooner the other measures are brought forward the better.

Mr. Morrison

Does not the Secretary of State agree that it would be useful for him to meet those involved in the bakery industry who are part of the social contract and who are, presumably, useful people? Does he also agree that unless he does this there will be further difficulties over bread?

Mr. Foot

As I told the House yesterday, the Conciliation and Arbitration Service that we have set up is in touch with the parties, and in that situation I do not think that it would be sensible for me to intervene directly. That also applies to some of the other questions raised. What I want to secure is the earliest possible settlement of the dispute, and the way in which the Conciliation and Arbitration Service is going about it offers the best hope for that.

Mr. Skinner

If, as reported, the hospital consultants get a £2,000-a-year increase—to be announced shortly— would it also be in accordance with the social contract for the bakers to get £40 a week?

Mr. Foot

As my hon. Friend, quite contrary to his normal custom, has based his question on an hypothesis, it is difficult for me to answer it, but he must not believe everything that he reads in the newspapers.

Mr. Hugh Fraser

Will the Secretary of State say whether there has ever been a breach of the social contract in any settlement so far, and on what occasion anyone has been reproved for a breach of the social contract, which is becoming very wide, rather like the Holy Roman Empire, and like a sublime piece of mysticism and nonsense?

Mr. Foot

I do not know whether it is profitable to pursue the matter by going into a discussion on the matter of resemblances with the Holy Roman Empire and the other suggestions that the right hon. Gentleman might make. I thought that he was rather in favour of the Holy Roman Empire, and that he thought that it was still in existence. Perhaps he intended the comparison to be highly flattering. There have been occasions when flagrant breaches of the social contract have occurred. I have drawn attention to them, and that is desirable in certain circumstances.

Mr. Prior

Will the Secretary of State remind his hon. Friend who asked the question that those parts of the social contract to which he alluded are not a social contract but a Socialist contract, and that that needs to be made abundantly plain? The part of the social contract which is now of vital interest to the nation as a whole is that part which relates to some restriction of wage increases, so that the country can beat inflation. It is on that side that we shall give the right hon. Gentleman every support, and on that side that he seems to be singularly ineffective.

Mr. Foot

I know that there is only a particular part of the social contract, as represented by hon. Members on the Opposition side, that they support. That is why they were so incapable of dealing with national problems. National problems are much wider than questions of wage negotiations, important though those wage negotiations are. I see that the right hon. Gentleman has been writing to The Times to try to discover the facts of the matter. He would do much better to put Questions in the House. He will then get the answers.