HC Deb 05 February 1976 vol 904 cc1411-4
Q3. Mr. Skinner

asked the Prime Minister when he last met the TUC; and if he will make a statement.

The Prime Minister

I refer my hon. Friend to the reply which I gave him on 25th November, Sir.

Mr. Skinner

Will my right hon. Friend remind the TUC that he is currently leading an army of 1½ million unemployed workers which is costing £1 billion in unemployment and related benefits and another £1 billion in lost tax? Will he take its half muted advice to impose import controls on a wide range of goods and direct investment to stop this degradation of 1½ million workers?

The Prime Minister

The TUC, when it meets myself or my right hon. Friends, is always capable of briefing itself and of deciding what it will say to us. I am sure that if my hon. Friend sent the TUC any supplementary briefs, it would consider them very carefully, though it might want him to get his figures right the first time round.

My hon. Friend will be aware that the TUC is repeatedly on record as being against any general system of import controls of the kind proposed several times by him both in the House and outside.

Mrs. Thatcher

Will the Prime Minister discuss with the TUC the enormous increase in the amount of tax taken out of the pay packet by this Government? Is he aware that this year the average household in Britain will pay £335 more in income tax than in 1974? Is not this the intolerable cost of Socialism?

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Lady will know that these figures have been referred to by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer both inside and outside the House and that he has expressed his anxiety and even given some hints as to his intentions in these matters. However, she will know that the figures she quotes would have to be much increased if we increased defence expenditure by £4.8 billion, as she has been advocating. There would also be a further very big increase if this Government were to fulfil the frivolous election promises which she made in 1974 regarding mortgages.

Mr. Duffy

Has the Prime Minister noticed that the indications that the Government are getting inflation more under control continue to strengthen business confidence and that this revival in optimism is due not only to a feeling that the recession is bottoming out, but as this week's Financial Times survey of business forecasts points out, to the more favourable response of the trade unions to the economic situation, a response of which we have just been given an indication?

The Prime Minister

In an earlier answer I referred to both the CBI and the Financal Times monthly survey being the most optimistic since the middle of 1973 when the Conservative Government were in charge. They also confirm absolutely what the Opposition always deny—that the sheer fall in production, productivity, turnover, profitability and capital investment began in the summer of 1973, which was even before increased oil prices and the three-day week. That destroys the whole of their argument.

Mrs. Winifred Ewing

In any discussions with the TUC will the Prime Minister give high priority to the growth of unemployment among the young as reported in an EEC Commission Report published yesterday, which shows that in Britain 35 per cent. of the unemployed are between 15 and 25 years of age?

The Prime Minister

We are all concerned about the percentage of the young unemployed. In Scotland, where there is a different school-leaving pattern from that south of the border, it is particularly acute. The hon. Lady will be aware of the proposals and the decisions announced and now put into effect by my right hon. Friends the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Secretary of State for Employment at the turn of the year about help specifically for school-leavers.

Mr. Atkinson

Does my right hon. Friend recollect that the last time he met TUC leaders to discuss general economic matters he assured them that resources would be made available for the manufacture of capital goods for stock? Will he reflect on the debate on unemployment when the Chancellor of the Exchequer said that there was a continuing argument with the EEC Commissioners about whether Britain would be allowed to do that? Therefore, will he announce to the House his determination to ensure that these resources will be made available in line with his promise?

The Prime Minister

The Chancellor of the Exchequer has informed the House of his intention to do more in regard to taking stocks off the market. He has indicated that he will make a further announcement in the very near future about further action—not on the basis of a general, wild reflation, but on relevant measures to help with employment—and I had better not anticipate anything he may say.