HC Deb 25 May 1976 vol 912 cc262-5
Q1. Mr. Canavan

asked the Prime Minister when he next plans to meet the STUC.

The Prime Minister (Mr. James Callaghan)

I hope to meet the STUC later this summer.

Mr. Canavan

Will my right hon. Friend discuss with the STUC the reasons behind the local authority workers' strike in the Cumbernauld-Kilsyth district? Bearing in mind that the SNP-controlled council is the only local authority in the whole of Scotland which is trying to force workers to accept a £6 wage cut and is trying to pass the buck to the Labour Government, does my right hon. Friend agree that this is typical of the dishonest and shabby treatment that the Scottish trade union movement would receive at the hands of the SNP under its kind of separate Scotland?

The Prime Minister

I understand that the SNP in the Cumbernauld-Kilsyth district takes the view that while it is prevented by the pay policy from giving increases, it is entitled to make reductions. If it treats Scottish affairs with that degree of sensitivity, it will have a lot more people in Scotland out on strike. I understand that the union is prepared to negotiate and that the district council is ready to negotiate on this general question. I hope that the issue can be settled very quickly. I have no doubt that the people of Scotland will note the situation to which my hon. Friend has called attention.

Mr. David Steel

When he meets the STUC, will the Prime Minister discuss with its members the question of unemployment among newly-qualified schoolteachers? Is he aware that while the whole House regards any unemployment as regrettable, there is particular repugnance at unemployment among young people who may have spent up to three years training at public expense, only to find they have no jobs to go to?

The Prime Minister

We should be concerned about unemployment among all young people—teachers and everybody else. Unemployment among teachers is extremely low compared with the general figures. I hope that young school teachers will endeavour to find other suitable occupations, because, as the House knows, an advisory council on supply and training is looking into these matters and it seems to be recommending that because of demographic changes and the smaller number of children likely to be passing through our schools we shall not need such a large supply of teachers in future.

Mr. Dempsey

Is my right hon. Friend aware that if he were discussing this matter with the STUC, its members would point out that by reducing classes to 30, which is Labour Party policy, by employing more teachers for remedial purposes, and by accepting the principle approved by teachers in recent contract service agreements, of 10 per cent. extra for correction time, it would be possible to prevent virtually any newly-qualified teachers from going on the dole in August?

The Prime Minister

I dare say that is true, but my hon. Friend did not finish his comments by adding that these measures would cost a great deal of extra money. I do not have the Scottish figures, but the figures for England and Wales show that the pupil-teacher ratio in January this year was 23.8 in primary schools and 17 in secondary schools. This is a remarkable improvement. We can obviously go on improving ratios all the time, but we have to take into account the cost to the public purse.

Mr. Crawford

I am shocked that the Prime Minister does not have the Scottish statistics. When he meets the STUC will he tell it that he is utterly ashamed to be heading a Government who campaigned on the slogan "Back to Work With Labour", and who are now presiding over some of the highest unemployment levels in Scotland since before the war?

The Prime Minister

In that case I hope to have the support of the hon. Gentleman, and of those who are cheering on the Opposition Benches, for the Government's anti-inflation policy. It is undoubtedly true—I hope that the hon. Gentleman will explain this to his constituents—that, when inflation gets out of control, it leads to unemployment. That is why I wonder why Opposition spokesmen, such as the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine), say that the trade unions should be ashamed of recommending the pay deal to their followers.

Mr. Younger

When the Prime Minister sees the STUC, will he remind it that the public spending spree that the Govvernment set in train in 1974 has now made thousands of its members unemployed?

The Prime Minister

I do not mind a certain amount of rewriting of history, but I do not think the hon. Gentleman can get away with that. The spending spree started under Lord Barber and the Government of which most of the Opposition Front Bench were members. That was when inflation took off. The penitence expressed by some Conservative Members about the way in which they allowed the money supply to get out of hand should be continued through to its logical conclusion. It was they who fomented the tremendous inflation that has taken place. It is they who are now divided in their approach to the remedies. All we know is that the Leader of the Opposition takes the view that public expenditure should be cut immediately, and cutting expenditure immediately would, of course, lead to a much larger amount of unemployment, which Conservative hon. Members deplored.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

What evidence does my right hon. Friend have that resources released by punitive cuts in public expenditure would go to socially useful investment or job creation?

The Prime Minister

There is no evidence to that effect. The Government have not cut public expenditure this year. If my hon. Friend would listen to the replies that I have made over some weeks, he would know—and he should know by now—that what we are doing is levelling off the increase in public expenditure over the next three years, not cutting it.

Mr. Prior

How does the Prime Minister reconcile what he has just said to my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger) with the fact that he fought the October 1974 election on the basis that unemployment was beginning to fall and that inflation was under control?

The Prime Minister

It was the full extent of Lord Barber's depredations, under which the money supply increased by about 23 per cent.—which I have always understood from at least the right hon. and learned Member for Surrey, East (Sir G. Howe) is the cause of our troubles, which led to the great inflation of 1974—[Interruption.] Conservative Members cannot disguise their difficulties by shouting at me. They had better make up their minds whether they are monetarists or pseudo-monetarists, whether they believe that the expansion of the money supply caused inflation, or whether they do not. When they have resolved those difficulties I shall be more prepared to listen to their shoutings.