HC Deb 08 November 1977 vol 938 cc480-3
Q3. Mr. Corbett

asked the Prime Minister whether he will pay an official visit to Hemel Hempstead.

The Prime Minister

I have at present no plans to do so.

Mr. Corbett

As my right hon. Friend is unable to visit, will he try to arrange to speak to my courageous constituent, Mr. John Prestwich, who is paralysed from the neck down and therefore relies upon electricity for life and yet telephoned me yesterday to urge that the Government should stand firm against the unofficial action of the power workers? While I recognise that the power workers have a sense of grievance, may I ask whether my right hon. Friend agrees that it would be better for them, for Mr. Prestwich and for everyone else if they were to use the proper trade union procedures, even if those procedures also need improving?

The Prime Minister

I am aware that many who suffer, as well as the general public, are in favour of there being a broad acceptance of the general guidelines for moderate increases in pay and earnings this year. The Government will adhere to this policy as long as the policy maintains public support. Without public support, we cannot succeed. With it, I believe that we can succeed, and we shall endeavour to do so.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for what he said, because I think that the power workers have recognised the force of public opinion in this matter. I hope that they and their union, and, of course, the Central Electricity Generating Board, will get together to iron out whatever difficulties there may be on a tripartite basis, provided that they can do so within the general guidelines, which I hope will be accepted by all.

Mr. Tebbit

If the Prime Minister should change his mind and go to Hemel Hempstead, could I persuade him to come and visit my home in that constituency so that I could show him my file of answers from the Chancellor of the Exchequer? Those answers show conclusively that the man on average earnings with two young children was, by early summer of this year, some £8.70 a week worse off than at the time of the last General Election. The Prime Minister could then tell me in private, if he is afraid to say so in public, whether he was just flummoxed and got it wrong or whether he really believes the wrong answers that he gave me on Thursday.

The Prime Minister

I should be very happy to have a cup of tea with the hon. Member. He is always clear in his criticism, even if he is not always accurate. I shall be glad to go along sometime. I do not promise that it will be next week. When I go I shall not have to take a huge volume of files. I shall just take one foolscap sheet that will flummox the hon. Gentleman once and for all.

Mr. Cartwright

In view of the nation's improving financial situation, can my right hon. Friend offer the TUC any hope that some of the recent cuts in public services will soon be made good? Is there not a case for some selective relaxation of financial and manpower controls—in local government, for example—so as to improve employment opportunities and also to make good the falling standards of public service?

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend seems to have overlooked the fact that there was a relaxation the week before last to the tune of El billion next year, and "that ain't hay ". There will be £400 million going to the construction industry and £600 million going elsewhere. Therefore, there has been a relaxation ranging over a number of Departments.

However, I should like to make one thing clear, about which I feel very strongly. Public expenditure is devised not as a means of giving employment but as a means of giving services to people. It is upon that basis that we have to look at it.

Mr. Crouch

When the Prime Minister meets the TUC and its leaders, will he ask them whether they will give him their full-hearted support in supporting his guideline of 10 per cent. for wage increases and not allow the unions, of which they are leaders, to put in grossly inflated demands, as is happening at the moment? I know of one case where the largest union in the country, the TGWU, has put in a demand of 42 per cent. to the oil industry.

The Prime Minister

The TUC at its annual Congress undertook something voluntarily that is of very great value, namely, the observance of the 12-month rule. Full credit should be given to all the unions that are observing that 12-month rule, because it is enabling us to make an orderly return.

As regards what the TUC should allow its unions to do, the TUC does not have control in these matters. The TUC advises unions, but unions take their own decisions. As we have seen recently, and it is part of the problem we have, it is not necessarily the leaders or officers of the unions who are putting in these pay claims. In the case of the fire brigades, it was the rank and file who decided what they wanted to do, despite the expressed view of their leaders. This is a problem for democracy as a whole. We have to give a firm lead, and we intend to do so.

Mr. Mendelson

Although it is undoubtedly true that local government services are provided and their financing is designed to assist people in their daily lives, is it not equally true that, when the instruction was sent out some months ago that local authorities must cut expenditure, that was done on financial grounds and not because the services were unnecessary? Therefore, is it not correct now to send other instructions to the local authorities to restore those services? If the Government do not do that without delay, will there not be the inevitable consequence that more people will be made, unemployed this winter?

The Prime Minister

I accept my hon. Friend's correction on that. It was done for financial reasons. However, let me also remind the House and my hon. Friend that a year ago the complaint that was being made by both sides of the House was that local authorities were being extravagant in the use of manpower and they were being asked to cut down on it. Now, the pendulum seems to be swinging to the other extreme. I agree that there are some authorities which have used the financial restrictions in an unwise way and in a way that is designed to reduce services where they might not need to be reduced. Of course we want to see those services restored. My hon. Friend does not have to press me on the question of public expenditure. As regards the desirability of providing services for people, I stand fair square behind that

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