HC Deb 22 February 1977 vol 926 cc1219-21
Q2. Mr. Wrigglesworth

asked the Prime Minister when he last met the TUC.

The Prime Minister

I refer my hon. Friend to the reply that I gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Corbett) on 3rd February.

Mr. Wrigglesworth

Will my right hon. Friend comment on the latest unemployment figures? Will he discuss with the TUC the problems of youth unemployment, and especially the possibility of increasing Government-sponsored training, so that not a single vacancy is left in an apprentice school or technical college while the present levels of unemployment are maintained?

The Prime Minister

As my hon. Friend has no doubt noted, there is a welcome decline in the rate of unemployment for the past month. I do not want to try to make any deduction from that, any more than I do from any single-month figure. It is encouraging that there has been a decrease in the number of unemployed and a decrease in the amount of short-time working, which I always think is some sort of symbol in this context.

I think that youth unemployment is almost the most serious aspect. It involves a great many other countries. One of the issues that I want to take up during the forthcoming series of international discussions is whether it is possible for us to operate on a European basis, or even on a wider basis, to try to deal with this especially difficult problem.

Mr. Budgen

When the Prime Minister next meets the TUC will he draw to its attention the recent speech made by the Secretary of State for Trade, entitled "The Politics of Economic Interdependence"? In particular, will he draw to its attention the passage in page 43, in which the right hon. Gentleman states: The source of economic growth is more likely to be the vigour of industrialists, the co-operation of labour forces than in the devices of government"?

The Prime Minister

My right hon. Friend's speech must be taken as a whole. I read it with very great care and attention. I thought it was an excellent speech. I hope that everyone else will read it with the same attention as the hon. Gentleman. As for the relationship between industry and Government, I think it is more generally accepted by industry than by the Conservative Party that what is needed is a proper, healthy inter-relationship between the two. I hope that one day the Conservative Party will catch up with industry on this matter.

Mr. Atkinson

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the biggest impediment preventing a satisfactory outcome to the discussions now taking place on phase 3 of the social contract is the current rate of price inflation? Does he agree that large sections of the TUC General Council are insisting on the return of free collective bargaining? Does it not therefore seem sensible that if the Government would prepare a scheme for price control and allow free collective wage bargaining to be conducted against price ceilings we might thereby formulate a method of overcoming the difficulties?

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend is correct in saying that the increased level of prices is one of the present causes of discontent. The Government will take every realistic step that they can to control prices, where possible. I have pointed out to my hon. Friend on previous occasions the limitations on a country that is so dependent on imports as ours is in this matter.

I do not comment on any member of the General Council because I do not think that that is our business, particularly, but I say to those who are calling for a return to free collective bargaining that in my view that would be a return, this year, to free collective chaos, and I should not support that. I think it is right that there should be a certain modification and greater flexibility, in order to overcome differential problems and other matters of that sort in the next pay agreement that is reached, but we must have another pay agreement.

Mr. Tapsell

Will the Prime Minister draw to the attention of the TUC the fact that the longer-term economic advantages to be won from restraint on wages, on public expenditure and on the money supply are being largely nullified by the Government's failure to maintain the international value of sterling, which is the prime cause of the current high rates of inflation?

The Prime Minister

No, the TUC would not take that as being a fair representation of the Government's position. In any case, as the hon. Gentleman knows, sterling is being extremely stable at present and I trust it will remain so.