HC Deb 29 November 1977 vol 940 cc262-4
Q3. Mr. Molloy

asked the Prime Minister when he last met the TUC and the CBI.

The Prime Minister

I refer my hon. Friend to the reply which I gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) on 10th November.

Mr. Molloy

When he met the TUC and the CBI, did my right hon. Friend discuss with them the considerable and remarkable improvement in the British economy? [Interruption.] I know that this improvement is bound to cause irritation to the Conservative Party in its anti-British campaign, which it reveals in this House, in the country and overseas. Did my right hon. Friend discuss with the TUC and the CBI the effects that this improvement could have on wage negotiations and price stabilisation?

The Prime Minister

I constantly point out to trade union conferences and at all my meetings with trade unions that what is happening to inflation and the decrease in the rate of inflation has profound consequences in preserving our competitiveness, preserving jobs and raising the standard of life of our people. That, together with the tax reductions that are now working through—I believe that some are being paid this week—and the prospects for real growth next year, which are significantly better than for some years, should lead, as my hon. Friend indicated in the last part of his question, to moderation in wage claims and settlements. That is the best way to preserve the prospects for increased growth next year.

Mrs. Thatcher

Will the Prime Minister say when he will be in a position to make a statement to the House about the unprecedented losses of the British Steel Corporation, which arc now reported to amount to £500 million a year?

The Prime Minister

I answered questions on this subject last week. The Government and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry have begun discussions on these matters, and when they are brought to a conclusion a report will be made to the House.

Mrs. Thatcher

Will the Prime Minister give an assurance that it is no part of his strategy to use the revenue from North Sea oil to keep going wealth-consuming jobs rather than allow the revenue to be used to generate wealth-creating jobs?

The Prime Minister

As a general proposition, that is wholly unexceptionable, but I take it that the right hon. Lady is not suggesting that because of the world recession we should allow the British steel industry to collapse.

Mr. David Steel

In future meetings with the TUC and CBI—[Interruption.]—will the Prime Minister continue to lay stress on the importance of the 10 per cent. guideline? [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. The right hon. Gentleman must be allowed to put his question.

Mr. Steel

I am asking a perfectly serious question about the importance of adhering to the 10 per cent. guideline. Did the Prime Minister maintain that in his meeting with the Fire Brigades Union this morning? If so, what sort of response did he get?

The Prime Minister

If the House will forgive me, I do not wish to go into the details of my discussions with the FBU this morning. I set out my view very fully and they fully understand the position of the Government. In my view there is no doubt that the firemen have a substantial case for determining a long-term formula which will fix their position. I have indicated this to them and have also tried to indicate to them—without giving any positive assurances, because we were not negotiating—that I would see whether we could underwrite such a long-term agreement if one were reached. But it is not possible for the Government in present circumstances to depart from the 10 per cent. guideline. We are not fighting the firemen; I am fighting for the overall objective of keeping inflation down and jobs up.

Mrs. Castle

Will my right hon. Friend give a guarantee that the Government will underwrite the firemen's long-term pay formula to the same extent that they have undertaken to underwrite the findings of the independent inquiry into the police?

The Prime Minister

There have been no undertakings given on either count. I should prefer not to be pressed on this matter when negotiations are being conducted. They are not best conducted across the Floor of the House.

Mr. Prior

When the Prime Minister next meets Mr. Jack Jones and the TUC, will he tell Mr. Jones and the Transport and General Workers Union what sanctions he thinks the Government should apply to them for giving themselves increases of more than 10 per cent?

The Prime Minister

I am not acquainted with what the right hon. Gentleman is referring to. If he will put down a Question to the Secretary of State for Employment, I am sure that he will get an adequate reply.

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