HC Deb 24 April 1975 vol 890 cc1735-7
Q1. Mr. William Hamilton

asked the Prime Minister when he next intends to meet representatives of the CBI and the TUC in order to discuss the social contract.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Wilson)

As I have told the House, I met representatives of the TUC at Monday's informal meeting of the TUC-Labour Party Liaison Committee. Further meetings between the Government and the TUC, and also with representatives of the CBI, will be arranged as necessary.

Mr. Hamilton

Does the Prime Minister recognise, in view of the frightening unemployment figures announced today and the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer yesterday, that he should arrange tripartite meetings with the representatives of the TUC and the CBI to tackle the problem of inflation, otherwise there will be even worse unemployment figures than those indicated by the Chancellor in his Budget speech?

The Prime Minister

I agree with my hon. Friend about the anxieties. The Chancellor and I regularly meet representatives of the CBI and the TUC at monthly NEDC meetings and on other occasions as may be necessary.

My right hon. Friend's speech last night, his Budget speech and my own warnings have emphasised that inflation is the father and mother of increased unemployment. With regard to the serious figures published today, over 90.000 of the people registered were students on vacation who have now substantially disappeared from the unemployment register, the numbers of which are accordingly falling again since the dates covered by what was published today.

Mr. Churchill

Is the Prime Minister aware that the Government's economic policies have put 200,000 people out of work or on short-time working in the North-West Region alone? How many more hundreds of thousands of people are to be thrown on the slag heap of unemployment before the Government moderate and modify their policies of deliberately creating unemployment in a vain effort to contain inflation?

The Prime Minister

When the hon. Gentleman was elected last year there were over 2 million people unemployed as a result of the policies of the Conservative Government, of which he was a member, which their Front Bench defended and still defends, so far as I know. Concerning the increases since then, the country was warned before the February election to expect by last winter an even higher figure than that published today. That did not happen. However, we are doing everything within our power —and I should like the help of the Opposition sometimes—to solve these problems on a basis which is acceptable to all.

Mr. Weetch

Will my right hon. Friend ask the leaders of the TUC, when he next meets them. whether they have any ideas about a policy for settled wage differentials? In view of the fact that at least a subsidiary factor of some of the industrial trouble over the years has been that of wage differentials, will he ask the leaders of the TUC for their ideas so that they may be given constructive consideration by the House?

The Prime Minister

Over many years, under successive Governments, successive types of wage handling have been among the biggest problems, leading to leap-frogging and feelings of unfairness. That is still one of the big problems. We discussed this informally on Monday. I think I made it clear to the House on Tuesday that the proceedings on Monday were not a formal negotiation between the Government and the TUC, although representatives of the Parliamentary Labour Party and the National Executive were present. These matters have been taken up. It is my impression that these and other questions will be further considered by the TUC during the next month or two, because if it has any new guidance to offer that will have to be considered before Congress later in the year.

Mr. Whitelaw

The Prime Minister will be aware that his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster said in the Budget debate that there was a good deal of confusion about the social contract. In view of that and the serious nature of the situation that the Prime Minister has recognised, would it not be valuable in the interests of the whole country to agree to publish a White Paper on what has happened to the social contract, what is likely to happen and what the Government consider to be its future prospects?

The Prime Minister

I am not sure whether the right hon. Gentleman was here on Tuesday. He may not know—I am sure he will have learned since—that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State spent three-quarters of an hour fully answering questions on that point. [Interruption.] At the risk of wearying the House, I could go over some of them. My right hon. Friend gave his reasons for the way in which both he and the Government have handled the matter in relation to commenting on particular wage settlements.