HC Deb 29 April 1976 vol 910 cc554-6
Q2. Mr. Blaker

asked the Prime Minister when he next expects to meet the TUC and the CBI.

Q6. Mr. Adley

asked the Prime Minister when he next intends to meet the TUC and CBI.

The Prime Minister

I hope to meet representatives of both the TUC and the CBI at the next meeting of the National Economic Development Council.

Mr. Blaker

Whilst we all admire the Prime Minister's ingenuity in finding new principles, will the right hon. Gentleman explain to the TUC and CBI, for which it is very relevant, how the Secretary of State for Energy can abstain in the National Executive Committee of the Labour Party on the Government's spending plans, with all the effect on international confidence that that has? Does not the principle of collective responsibility apply?

The Prime Minister

I am not finding new principles. I am restating old ones when I suggest that when the House has given a Bill a Second Reading, the Bill is supposed to be allowed to proceed in Committee. A similar principle applies to the doctrine of collective responsibility —that is, collective responsibility includes all Ministers, who must be willing to defend the Government's policies at all times.

Mr. Heffer

My right hon. Friend rightly said earlier that sacrifices should be fairly borne. Does he not agree that in the last period the trade unions have fallen over backwards to accept sacrifices? Will he now clearly indicate that the other side of the coin is an extension of egalitarian principles and of public ownership—[Interruption]—and that the Opposition and their supporters in the country—big business—should also make their sacrifices?

The Prime Minister

I have repeatedly said—and I at once say again, despite the Opposition jeers—that the trade union movement is playing a most remarkable part at present. It ill behoves anyone on the Opposition Benches to jeer at what is being done.

On the rôle of the trade unions, it is true that the people of this country and trade unionists have accepted sacrifices, but these sacrifices—and this is why we stand where we do—are in the best interests of securing a new base from which we can build a productive economy. Only on that base would my right hon. Friends and I feel free to ask the people to make those sacrifices. That is why we shall endeavour to carry through the programme laid down in our manifesto.

Mr. Adley

If the TUC rejects the 3 per cent. pay limit, which the Government have said is imperative, will the Government cut by a similar percentage the proposed tax concessions? If they do so, will they tell the 10 million trade unionists who are members of the trade unions affiliated to the TUC whose fault it is that they are having their tax concessions cut?

The Prime Minister

The hon. Gentleman, as usual, is being helpful and I am grateful to him for the way in which he puts his remarks. We should first wait to see how those discussions turn out. The trade unions are trying to carry their members into a situation in which they will freely and voluntarily accept a level of wage increases this year that is inconceivably low by comparison with the situation a year ago, when nobody would have thought that possible. What I am anxious to do, as I hope is the whole House, is to help the trade unions to achieve that.

Mr. Spriggs

What special steps are the Government prepared to take to help school leavers, particularly in view of the fears about unemployment in the Merseyside area, to obtain jobs in the next year?

The Prime Minister

As the House knows, the Budget Statement contained a doubling of the temporary employment subsidy. I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment has been looking especially at the subject of school leavers, not only as to the situation on Merseyside, but in other respects. I believe that he is now undertaking discussions on this matter.

Mr. Pardoe

Will the Prime Minister reconsider what he said a few moments ago? Is he aware that nobody in any part of the House will doubt that the trade unions are playing a considerable part at present? What some of us are concerned about is the part played by Parliament. What proposals have the Government to restore the power of representative parliamentary democracy?

The Prime Minister

It would be open to Parliament, in the light of any voluntary agreement reached by the trade unions, to overturn it if it were foolish enough to do so. What the Opposition have totally failed to understand is that in these matters of Budget judgment for the year ahead the level of earnings is one of the central features to be considered. No Chancellor of the Exchequer can afford to ignore it when deciding on the other balancing factors in his Budget. Therefore, if a sensible agreement were reached with the trade unions, it would be foolish for anybody to seek to overturn it, because that would throw out the balance of the Budget as a whole.

Sir David Renton

Although I understand the Government's reasons for entering into these wage negotiations with the TUC, may I ask the Prime Minister who, if anybody, is representing the interests of those who will have to pay the wage increases?

The Prime Minister

Obviously, it will be for employers to decide what can be paid at the end of the day after negotiations with the trade unions. That is not a new principle but an old one. Last year some employers were unable to pay the full amount that had been agreed, but this is a process of collective bargaining.