HC Deb 25 July 1978 vol 954 cc1361-4
Q3. Mr. Corbett

asked the Prime Minister when he last met the TUC.

The Prime Minister

I met members of the TUC general council on 18th July. Further meetings will be arranged as necessary.

Mr. Corbett

Can the Prime Minister confirm that the Trades Union Congress still attaches vital importance to the social wage, which is an important supplement to people's take-home pay? Does he also agree that pretences of axing tax would mean gigantic cuts in public spending and growing public squalor in such important services as housing, health and education?

The Prime Minister

The social wage, as it became known in 1974, is an important part of the total emoluments and rewards of every wage earner, and, indeed, of others in this country. For example, in the case of a married man with two children who is earning £75 a week, I find that the child benefit payment which will be increased in November, is equivalent to an increase of 6 per cent. on his real wages. This is very important. The TUC naturally attaches importance to this. I hope that at some time we shall hear—perhaps this afternoon—whether the Opposition intend to cut public expenditure, how they hope to avoid making charges for such matters as attendance by doctors, and for hospital and school services.

Mr. Adley

Can the Prime Minister now confirm the demise of the Jack Jones route to a thriving economy—namely, the downgrading of skill, enterprise and effort? Will he take this opportunity to confirm that the Government accept that this is not the way to make the economy thrive and that this proposal, which was the "bible" of the TUC, is now as dead as the dock labour scheme?

The Prime Minister

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that Mr. Jack Jones is quite capable of looking after himself against the hon. Gentleman. The views he ascribes to Mr. Jones are not for me to defend, and, as far as I know, they have never been held by him and are not likely to be.

Mr. Pavitt

Will my right hon. Friend, when he next sees the TUC, rub home the question of the social wage and the disaster that could occur in terms of primary care if by any chance a barrier were to be put between the patient and the doctor's treatment? At the same time, will my right hon. Friend look at the problem that arises from the Oppositions demand that taxation be decreased, bearing in mind that in West Germany health charges are charged direct to companies as a separate form of taxation?

The Prime Minister

It is my understanding that the TUC is fully aware of the difficulties in which the Opposition find themselves at present when they say that they will cut public expenditure but, at the same time, give no clue as to how they propose to meet the continuing expenditure, especially in relation to the increase in the number of pensions and to the increase in the cost of the Health Service, education and other services.

Q5. Mr. Hannam

asked the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 25th July.

The Prime Minister

I refer the hon. Member to the reply which I gave earlier today to the hon. Member for South Angus (Mr. Welsh).

Mr. Hannam

Will the Prime Minister take time today to answer one straightforward question? Does he believe that a Government who in four years have nearly trebled the level of unemployment, halved the standard of living of skilled workers and doubled the cost of living and in the past year have produced nearly 10 million days lost in industrial strikes should be given another chance of running this country?

The Prime Minister

The answer to the last part of the supplementary question is so obviously "Yes" that it is hardly worth saying. As to the first part of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question, he has a number of propositions wrong and he entirely neglects the fact that the oil price increases of 1973–74, which were fivefold, hit the Western economies, including our own, extremely badly. In this country we have been able to maintain the standard of life of the people over the whole period and, at the same time, protect the weak and those most in need.

Mr. Kinnock

Will my right hon. Friend be able to see his noble Friend the Lord Privy Seal in order to instruct him to be more flexible and generous than he has been hitherto in his negotiations over wages and terms and conditions of employment of industrial civil servants, many of whom are earning absolute pittances and on whose services we cannot expect to depend much longer if we continue paying them as we do now?

The Prime Minister

I note my hon. Friend's views, but I do not think that in the matter of wage negotiations it is right for me to enter into a discussion when the negotiations must take place between the trade unions and the Government. That is what we hope to do, and we are ready to receive the trade union leaders at any time.

Sir Bernard Braine

Although the Prime Minister may not have found time in his busy day yet to have read the Health and Safety Commission's report on the terrifying and unacceptable level of hazards to which 33,000 of my constituents are exposed, will he be kind enough to read the report tomorrow and, when he has grasped the gravity of the position, instruct the Secretary of State for the Environment, who has, I understand, responsibility for co-ordinating action in this area, to make a statement in the House on the subject before the House rises?

The Prime Minister

I am aware of the hon. Gentleman's anxiety and I have looked at, but not read, every page of, the report. The Secretary of State for the Environment is studying it urgently, and I shall convey to him the hon. Gentleman's request.

Mr. Loyden

May I ask my right hon. Friend to reflect on the decision taken last night when the dock labour scheme was voted down by all the Tory parties on the Benches opposite? Will he give an assurance that, in the event of a Labour Government being returned, the scheme will be put on the statute book and that the nationalisation of the docks will follow?

The Prime Minister

The Secretary of State for Employment for the time being will, of course, carry on the dock labour scheme under the 1967 regulations, which arose out of the 1946 Act. He will have discussions with both sides of industry to see how the damage that was done by the Opposition last night can be repaired, and in due course, when we have a majority in this House, we shall certainly make sure that a full decasualisation scheme goes through.