HC Deb 10 May 1977 vol 931 cc1100-4
Q2. Mr. Pattie

asked the Prime Minister if the speech made by the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs on economic policy at Castleford Trades and Labour Clubs on 23rd April 1977 represents Government policy.

Q3. Mr. Aitken

asked the Prime Minister if the speech made by the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs on economic policy at Castleford Trades and Labour Clubs on 23rd April 1977 represents Government policy.

Q9. Mr. Michael Latham

asked the Prime Minister if the public speech by the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs on economic policy in Castleford on 23rd April 1977 represents Government policy.

Mr. Foot

I have been asked to reply.

I refer the hon. Members to the reply that my right hon. Friend gave to the hon. Member for Christchurch and Lymington (Mr. Adley) on 2nd May.

Mr. Pattie

Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that in his speech the Foreign Secretary said specifically that the Government, ahead of any negotiations with the TUC, had already decided on a ceiling of 8 per cent. or 9 per cent. for wages policy in phase 3, and that he went on to say that if this was not possible we should be in danger of losing all the ground so painfully won? As most sections of society have now experienced the pain, can the right hon. Gentleman give some examples of the ground that has been won?

Mr. Foot

The hon. Gentleman is under a misapprehension. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary did not state the matter in the terms set out by the hon. Gentleman. The figure that he referred to in his speech was a single-figure pay-price equation. He referred to the desirability of securing such a figure, and, of course, that figure itself was referred to by the TUC in its economic review.

Mr. Aitken

In the light of the statement made by the Prime Minister following the economic Summit, can the right hon. Gentleman clarify whether it is the lowering of the inflation rate or the lowering of the unemployment total that is now the Government's new and first priority? If it is the latter, will he help the House by giving a forecast of the number of people who will be unemployed by the end of the year?

Mr. Foot

The hon. Gentleman seeks to play with words. My right hon. Friend and the communiqué stated plainly that priority would be given to creating jobs and overcoming the common unemployment problem that we have in all our countries. My right hon. Friend and others emphasised also that this is inextricably tied up with the fight against inflation as well.

Mr. Latham

In relation to pay and prices policy, have not the events of the last 24 hours shown clearly that High Street competition, with or without Green Shield stamps, is worth more to the housewife than any number of stage 3s, prices Bills and price codes?

Mr. Foot

I do not think that that is what most of the housewives in the country think about the situation. Indeed, if they were satisfied with that form of competition, they would not have been misled into voting as they did on Merseyside. It is precisely because of the general inflation that they took many of the courses they did. I assure the hon. Gentleman that his solution is not one that can be applied properly and successfully across the economy as a whole.

Mr. Cohen

As the Question refers to the economic policy of the Government, will my right hon. Friend confirm that the agreement reached at the Summit Conference will in no way adversely affect the existing hope of extending legislation in respect of dumping in the clothing, steel, textile, leather and other industries in this country?

Mr. Foot

I can give my hon. Friend confirmation on that point. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister indicated, there was no change of policy in that respect. These matters are governed by provisions involved in international arrangements which have already been reached.

Mr. Pardoe

I recognise the right hon. Gentleman's reluctance to give a figure in respect of pay policy, but does he accept that in phase 3 of the Conservative Government's policy an earnings increase of well over 16 per cent. was allowed? Does he accept that anything better than that would at least be an advance on Toryism?

Mr. Foot

I would not go into any figures, but I hope that I shall not cause any difficulties with the hon. Gentleman. One of the special difficulties that the Conservatives left us in dealing with these matters was their insistence on a statutory incomes policy. We do not believe that that is the right way to deal with the situation. As far as figures are concerned, I have indicated the general terms in which my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary referred to the matter. But all these aspects are for general discussion between the Government and representatives of the TUC, and we have not discussed matters in these terms at all.

Mr. Mates

Why has the right hon. Gentleman not answered the supplementary question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, East (Mr. Aitken)? If the Prime Minister was being serious yesterday in saying that the fight to find jobs for our people is now the primary fight, why cannot the right hon. Gentleman give even a target for the end of this year?

Mr. Foot

The hon. Gentleman knows, and everyone with experience knows, that it would be absurd to give a figure for the whole of the countries that are involved. There are 15 million unemployed in the Western world. No one could give a sensible target of what could be achieved by the end of the year in that respect. Therefore, it would not be possible to relate these general measures to particular countries, either. This matter does not bear any relevance to the rather dodgy supplementary question that the hon. Member for Thanet, East (Mr. Aitken) put. [Interruption.] The answer has been dodged because the question was not designed to get a clear answer.

Mrs. Castle

If the Government have not a target for the movement of employment over the next 12 months, quite apart from the question whether they could hit that target, will it not be extremely difficult for them to announce very shortly, as they promised, the figure for the up-rating of pensions next November, which, under the forecasting method, has to be linked with the future movement of earnings? Would it not therefore be wiser for the Government to return to the historical method, or allow a very large margin of contingency in case earnings turn out to be a great deal higher than they intend?

Mr. Foot

I did not make any statement about the Government not having a target for earnings; I was asked whether the Government would give a target for unemployment by a specific time, or at any rate an approximate time. That did not relate to anything about earnings. The hon. Member for Chertsey and Walton (Mr. Pattie) asked me about the speech by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, and I recalled the general terms in which this matter was referred to in the TUC document. As I indicated earlier, we have not reached any discussion of the detailed figures in talks with the TUC on these matters as yet, and therefore the question put by my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) does not arise.

Mr. Patrick Jenkin

Since the Foreign Secretary is a member of the medical profession, and since leaks of the Doctors' and Dentists' Review Body Report show that it is entirely within the pay policy, why has that report not yet been published?

Mr. Foot

The right hon. Gentleman seems to have an obsession with this subject. The Government are entitled to consider the matter, and I am sure that all the right hon. Gentleman's doubts will eventually be allayed.