HC Deb 15 February 1979 vol 962 cc1295-7
10. Mr. William Hamilton

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer when he last met representatives of the TUC.

12. Mr. Ashton

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer what discussions he has had recently with the Trades Union Congress on pay policy.

Mr. Healey

With my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, I met representatives of the TUC yesterday, when we discussed various economic matters, including pay.

Mr. Hamilton

Can my right hon Friend say whether, in the course of those discussions, anything was leaked to the press which gives substance to the report in The Guardian this morning that there is likely to be a settlement this weekend for the health workers and local government employees of about 9 per cent., with a promise of an additional payment in August? Is he aware that, if that report is true, my hon. Friends and I would welcome it?

Mr. Healey

There was no discussion on individual negotiations at my meeting with the TUC yesterday.

Mr. Cormack

Since the Chancellor has kindly told us how often he has disagreed with the Chief Secretary, can he say how often he has disagreed with the TUC and who has won the argument?

Mr. Healey

The TUC and I have not always agreed on all matters. I shall be able to make an estimate of where the honours lay and how the match turned out when I leave this office, which, it has been suggested, will be in at least 14 months' time.

Mr. Ashton

Will my right hon. Friend attempt to continue the discussions with the TUC on the synchronisation of pay claims and awards? Is not the mood now right for further discussions on this matter? Would it not be a grave mistake not to pursue this in the present climate?

Mr. Healey

My hon. Friend is right that the mood for making progress in many of the difficult areas of pay is appropriate at present. The statement published yesterday, which was agreed by the Government and the TUC, involved a large number of matters, such as the establishment of adequate comparability, dealing properly with relativities and trying to arrange that certain groups forgo the right of industrial action in return for guaranteed treatment of their pay. All those maters are ripe for discussion. I hope that in the coming weeks we shall reach agreement on them and prove how wrong the Opposition are in believing that such matters can be dealt with by the force of law, since that has failed so often in the past.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

As the Chancellor has said, the White Paper deals with many matters. May I remind the Chancellor that, when he spoke in the House three—not two—weeks ago, he stressed that the Government would not accommodate excessive wage increases in the public sector by increasing cash limits and that the cash limits would reflect the Government's pay guidelines? In view of the importance that the Chancellor attaches to cash limits, why is there no reference to them in the White Paper? Did he try to secure a reference to them and an understanding of their importance by the TUC and fail, or did he just forget?

Mr. Healey

The right hon. and learned Gentleman is inaccurate, as always. The speech to which he referred was made 16 days ago, on Tuesday of the week before last. On this, as on so many matters, the right hon. and learned Gentleman is sloppy in his regard to the facts.

The question of cash limits is a matter for the Government, as are many other matters which were not referred to in the joint statement published yesterday. I made it clear in my speech in the House that the Government are not prepared, if there is an excess in wage settlements, to increase cash limits accordingly. That will become clear when we publish the cash limits in the next week or two.

Mr. Mike Thomas

Can my right hon. Friend say anything further about the reference in the White Paper to urgent consultations on relativities? Is he aware that many hon. Members on this side of the House know that it is no good operating an economic forum and an agreement about the overall level of settlements when there is no agreement about relativities? Can my right hon. Friend give us some news about that?

Mr. Healey

My hon. Friend must not be too hasty. This matter was referred to in a statement which was finally concluded yesterday morning and presented to the House yesterday afternoon. The important thing about the statement is that it recognises that it is not possible for every group to improve its relative position and that the concept of a going rate which rises continuously because people build on previous settlements is self-defeating.

I and my colleagues will be entering into discussions with the TUC in the next week to decide how we develop institutions and other arrangements which will reflect that insight. I have no doubt that we shall be able to bring our conclusions to the House in the near future.

Mr. Raison

Does the Chancellor of the Exchequer think that it is right that all these issues involving incomes policy should be settled by private argument between the Government and the TUC without the House of Commons having any say at all?

Mr. Healey

The House has had a great deal of say on these matters. We have had many debates. I regret that the Opposition, in their enthusiasm for free collective bargaining, have helped to land us with the problems which the country now faces and from which the Government and the TUC are determined to extricate it.