HC Deb 17 February 1976 vol 905 cc1114-6
8. Mr. Arnold

asked the Secretary of State for Employment when he next plans to meet the General Secretary of the TUC.

Mr. Foot

The General Secretary of the TUC and I are frequently in touch with each other on a wide range of matters.

Mr. Arnold

When the Secretary of State next meets Mr. Murray will he place on the agenda for discussion the issue of what practical steps Mr. Murray now believes, judging from his most recent pronouncements, can be taken towards harnessing the EEC Regional Fund in combating the problem of structural unemployment in the British regions?

Mr. Foot

That is one of the few subjects on which I have not had discussions with the General Secretary. However, I am prepared to have discussions with him on the hon. Gentleman's suggestion. We are in favour of using the Regional Fund to the maximum degree for the benefit of this country, even though we know that regional funds as operated by this country are of infinitely greater importance than any Regional Fund established by the EEC.

Mr. Rooker

When my right hon. Friend next meets the General Secretary of the TUC will he draw to his attention the fact that the current number of hours overtime worked in manufacturing industry is greater than all the hours that would be worked by the unemployed in that industry? That is a standing indictment of the British trade union movement.

Mr. Foot

I would not describe it quite in that way, but it is one possibility, which may be of assistance in dealing with the present unemployment problem. I am sure that trade unions will take that into account in their discussions.

Mr. Prior

In view of the need for increased investment, what consultations has the Secretary of State had with Mr. Murray concerning relaxations in price controls which will enable companies to have greater confidence that they can get a return on their money and to invest in further important projects?

Mr. Foot

There are practical discussions with the TUC on investment generally on an individual basis, and there are discussions at the NEDC. The TUC has put forward a number of proposals on these aspects of the matter. Some of the proposals were accepted in the package that was put forward by the Chancellor last week. I have no doubt that there will be further developments of that kind. Questions on price control and its future prospects are primarily matters for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection. She has discussions with Mr. Murray on this subject, and that is the correct way for a report to be made to the House. That is one of the matters that figure in our discussions with him.

Miss Maynard

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Government persuaded the TUC to accept the present wages policy on the understanding that they would keep down the level of unemployment? Does he not agree that the Government have failed to carry out their share of the bargain? Does he agree that it is impossible to solve the problem of unemployment under capitalism? When will the Government attack this problem and other problems in our society by means of Socialist policies?

Mr. Foot

During all the discussions that we had with the TUC in establishing the present pay policy it emphasised very strongly its views about unemployment policies, and it continues to do so. It is well aware of the factors that led to the present appalling level of unemployment, and that led, in turn, to some discussions in recent weeks which culminated in the Chancellor's announcement last week. I have not the slightest doubt that discussions about the level of unemployment will figure very prominently in all the discussions we have with the TUC about a fresh agreement for the coming period. I believe that the two matters are intimately connected. I believe that the general crisis is one of Western capitalism, as I have said before, and we need long-term fundamental remedies for it, but we must have short-term remedies to deal with the immediate situation.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

In his discussions with the General Secretary, what mention has been made of a reduction in company taxation which will lead to revived confidence in industry? Does the Minister accept that only by new investment can unemployment be reduced and employment increased?

Mr. Foot

That raises very general questions. Hon. Members are rightly anxious to hear the views of the TUC on these subjects, and I therefore suggest that they order now their copies of the TUC Economic Review, which will be published very shortly and will set out the TUC's approach to these questions.

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