HC Deb 26 January 1978 vol 942 cc1589-92
Q2. Mr. Robinson

asked the Prime Minister when he last met the TUC.

The Prime Minister

I refer my hon. Friend to the reply which I gave to the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Mr. Arnold) on 8th November.

Mr. Robinson

When my right hon. Friend does meet the TUC, will he bear in mind what it told my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer yesterday, when it called for a massive expansionary economic package? As all Governments seem bound to err in the matter of economic policy, can my right hon. Friend assure us that if there is any erring to be done in the forthcoming Budget he will err this time on the side of the TUC and not on the side of the IMF?

The Prime Minister

I hope that there will be no error at all, although I am bound to say, having been in the House for 32 years, that it would be the first time any Government had got it right exactly. As for the proposed expansion, I think there is general acceptance that we can look forward—because of the progress that has been made on inflation as a result of the nation's efforts—to a substantial growth during the next 12 months compared with what we have had in recent years. The Government will adjust their financial policies accordingly.

Mr. Dykes

Will the Prime Minister discuss with the TUC the comments made today by Sir John Methven, who said that, while the excessively close relationship of the Government to the unions might have produced some short-term gains in the recent past, the continuation of that excessively close relationship would do long-term damage to the British economy?

The Prime Minister

I would no more think of discussing that with the TUC when I next meet it than I would expect the Leader of the Opposition to discuss with the CBI the close relationship that exists between it and the Tory Party.

Mr. Norman Atkinson

Does my right hon. Friend recall that recently he, together with my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer and other Treasury Ministers, has been claiming that the Government have a right to act as wage negotiators directly across the table with trade union representatives? Is not this tendency in direct contradiction to the understanding of the public sector which many of us had that within a mixed economy the Government should delegate authority to those who represent joint councils and boards of nationalised industries, giving them total freedom to negotiate freely wage bargains with those representing workers employed in the public sector?

The Prime Minister

Clearly, the Government are bound to take a view on these matters when public employees of one kind or another form such a large proportion of the national economy. There is no escape from that, whatever might be the ideal. I do not say that we shall move fully into this position, but, within the limits and guidelines that any successive Governments may lay down, of course people are free to negotiate.

Mr. Tebbit

As the Prime Minister is not meeting the TUC too often these days, will he take some of the time that he gains thereby to improve the quality of his briefing for Prime Minister's Questions, because he is giving us some unease? Is he aware that we thought he did not read his brief properly, and that the fact that he said he had read only the headings of the speech of his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy underlines that? Will he undertake to read that speech before he returns here next Tuesday, and tell us whether nationalisation is on his agenda as well as the Secretary of State's?

The Prime Minister

it is my constant desire to give unease to the hon. Gentleman. I am glad that I am so successful. As regards my reading matter over the weekend, I shall give consideration to the hon. Gentleman's suggestion.

Mr. Flannery

May we assume that when my right hon. Friend meets the TUC the matter of unemployment and how to curb it will be at the very top of the agenda? Can he assure us that he regularly discusses with such bodies at least some partial reflation to put some of the unemployed back where they belong—back in work?

The Prime Minister

This is a constant concern not only to the Government but to the whole House, and, indeed, to the country. There will be a debate on the matter on Monday, on a Supply Day, when it will be a subject properly chosen by the Opposition. The Government will then be able to say more about their proposals and plans. I can assure my hon. Friend that as long as it remains at the present level, both internationally and nationally, we shall do our best to attack this great problem.

Mr. Michael Latham

As the TUC did not want stage 3 and certainly does not want stage 4, is the Prime Minister enthusiastic about his Treasury Ministers going around the country giving indications that perhaps there should be a stage 4?

The Prime Minister

I am always enthusiastic about the Treasury Ministers.