HC Deb 14 November 1974 vol 881 cc582-5
Q1. Mr. Tebbit

asked the Prime Minister which of his Ministers is responsible for the fulfilment of the social contract.

Q9. Mr. Rost

asked the Prime Minister which of Her Majesty's Ministers is responsible for the application of the social contract.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Wilson)

All members of the Government carry this responsibility, but it is not the responsibility of Government alone.

Mr. Tebbit

Will the Prime Minister give special responsibility for this to the Attorney-General so that he can explain in the House what part of any social contract requires that those who have been guilty of offences under the law should subsequently be excused of them for political partisan reasons, as at Clay Cross?

The Prime Minister

There is no reference in the social contract to Clay Cross or any other urban district authority, but I take the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question as being one characteristically related to party political reasons on his part.

Mr. Stonehouse

All hon. Members, and particularly those on this side of the House, wish the social contract to succeed, but does my right hon. Friend agree with the Chancellor of the Exchequer that the alternative of widespread unemployment is unacceptable? Is it not the case that many official demands—apart from the unofficial ones—go well beyond that contract, and may I ask what contingency planning is being undertaken in case the TUC is unable to restrain those demands?

The Prime Minister

My right hon. Friend will be aware that what is important ultimately is the settlement and not the original negotiating demand. My right hon. Friend will also be aware, and will have read in the Press today, I think, that the TUC is addressing itself to this matter in respect of certain individual applications.

Mr. Rost

How will the social contract protect law-abiding ratepayers in Derbyshire who are to be surcharged to pay the Clay Cross debts?

The Prime Minister

This matter has been the subject of a statement in the House. It does not arise out of the social contract, and it was not referred to in the social contract. If, however, right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite wish to debate this matter, they will have the opportunity to do so either on a Supply Day or, of course, on the legislation.

Mr. Sedgemore

Can my right hon. Friend confirm that it is still part of the social contract to maintain full employment? Can he say at what level unemployment ceases to be full employment? Does he think that his views on the matter are compatible with the Chancellor's Budget Statement?

The Prime Minister

My right hon. Friend dealt with these matters in his Budget Statement two days ago. All these questions are currently being debated in the House. They were debated on the social contract and related matters on two days last week and on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week and they will be debated again later today. That is the appropriate place to go into these matters.

Mr. Thorpe

As we were led to believe during the election campaign that the social contract was a purely voluntary agreement, and as, yesterday, the Prime Minister's right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection indicated that the Government were considering using employers to prevent excessive wage or price increases by the infliction of a penalty, may we know when the Government will announce the statutory powers that they will require to give effect to this voluntary agreement?

The Prime Minister

Of course I read what my right hon. Friend said, which was in fulfilment of something that I had said in Cardiff during the election. I was asked about "rogue employers", a phrase I had used—and there are one or two around—[An HON. MEMBER: "The BBC."] The hon. Member has got that one right, at least. When I was asked about this, I said that if they were in a competitive export market they would not be able to afford to pay excessive costs and that on the home market they would be subject, as all manufacturers are, to strict price control. That is what my right hon. Friend amplified yesterday.

Mr. Swain

Reverting to the question of the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Rost), is my right hon. Friend aware that the late Sir Gerald Nabarro, in one of the few true things he said, said—this is referring to the social contract and justice—that people with money could buy justice? Because the councillors of Clay Cross have no money, they cannot even get justice at any price.

The Prime Minister

While I and many of my hon. Friends did not agree on many issues with Sir Gerald Nabarro, he was nevertheless a popular Member of the House on both sides. But I do not think that any remarks of Sir Gerald Nabarro or any questions that have been put about Clay Cross have any bearing on the main Question that I have been asked this afternoon. Hon. Members opposite seem determined to shake off all responsibility for the grave social harm that they did by the Housing Finance Act.

Mr. Heath

In relation to the Prime Minister's reply just now, we always come back to the fact that the social contract was arranged between the Labour Party and the trade unions, and now between the Labour Government and the trade unions. Since the employers or retailers or any other groups in the economy have not been involved in the social contract, how can the Prime Minister or any of his colleagues hold them responsible for actions which they take which are supposed to be in compliance with an agreement made only between the Prime Minister and the unions?

The Prime Minister

I cannot think of anything in the social contract which has not been fully discussed with the CBI and, of course, at "Neddy". But I am interested to see the right hon. Gentleman getting up on this, because during the election he said that he wanted a social contract as well, and at no point, despite repeated chances in the election, did he ever give a scintilla of what would be contained in the social contract—only suggestions for talking with non-party people about what might be in it. However, should he catch his chairman's eye this afternoon, perhaps he will answer this question.

Mr. Heath

When the right hon. Gentleman says that this matter has been discussed with the CBI, is he implying that the employers have ever accepted the nationalisation part of the social contract or the planning agreements or the National Enterprise Board? They have not accepted any of them or fresh arrangements about picketing.

The Prime Minister

No, indeed they have not, and it would be unfair to ask them to do so. Equally the right hon. Gentleman cannot invoke them to impose a veto on the actions of Government, but—[Interruption.] This House is quite political; we have our policies and right hon. Gentlemen opposite have something of a policy too. This is a policy on which we were elected in two elections this year and I do not intend to apologise for it. But when the right hon. Gentleman refers to the CBI he always fails to mention that, at the meeting of "Neddy" the Wednesday after the issue of the document by the TUC, the President of the CBI asked leave of the chairman to go ahead of the agenda in order to congratulate the TUC on the social contract proposals which it had put before the nation.