HC Deb 08 March 1979 vol 963 cc1479-81
Q2. Mr. Mike Thomas

asked the Prime Minister when he plans next to meet the Trades Union Congress.

The Prime Minister

I meet representatives of the TUC from time to time at the National Economic Development Council and on other occasions. Further meetings will be arranged as necessary.

Mr. Thomas

Those of us on this side of the House welcome, as does the TUC, the appointment of the Standing Commission on comparability which the Prime Minister announced yesterday, but is my right hon. Friend aware that an incomes policy for the next pay round will not work unless the work of the Commission is extended to consider private sector settlements, where the leapfrogging starts?

The Prime Minister

There has been a welcome for the establishment of the Standing Commission, except on the Conservative Benches where, as The Daily Telegraph said today, there was nothing but scorn. It would be helpful if the Opposition would tell us whether the Commission is one of the institutions which they propose to abandon if they ever get the chance of coming to office. That would influence a great many people in their approach to these questions.

On the general matter of the relationship of the Commission to the private sector, I think that we should wait and see how the Commission develops. I am certain that there must be a period of experiment first in order to see whether the Commission can establish the authority that I believe would introduce a much better atmosphere into the sectors of the economy that it will handle.

Mr. Cyril Smith

When the Prime Minister meets the TUC, will he discuss the pay of ambulance men? Is he aware that three services—the ambulance men, police and the fire brigade—are called to accidents? Does he agree that the pay of ambulance men should be considered by the Standing Commission on the basis that the ambulance service is an emergency service comparable to the other two?

The Prime Minister

It would be quite improper for me to do any such thing. The purpose of the Commission will be to examine all those sorts of arguments advanced by the ambulance men or others and to reach conclusions on them. There is no point in setting up such a Commission, only for hon. Members to ask me to declare myself on what should be the basis of its judgments.

Mr. Paul Dean

When the Prime Minister meets the TUC, will he explain why the nurses, who will not strike, are being offered the same pay rise as are employees who are prepared to use patients as hostages in their pay battle? Is that not another example of the Government conveying that militancy pays and dedication to duty does not?

The Prime Minister

That is an entirely false conclusion. I do not know that we should introduce, as a basis for fixing remuneration, the question whether people default on their duties.—[HON. MEMBERS: "Why not"?] Will hon. Members please hear me out? That matter should be dealt with by stopping the remuneration of those concerned when they strike. That is the way in which it should be done. The offer made to the nurses—and the House and the country should understand this—is worth more than £6 a week to an unqualified nurse, more than £7 a week to a qualified enrolled nurse and between £7 and £8 a week to the next grade up. In addition, an offer has been made that the nurses should go, without any reservations, and with the prior acceptance by the Government of any objective assessment, to the new comparability Commission. For anyone to suggest that such an offer is derisory is to lose touch with reality.

Mr. Noble

When my right hon. Friend next meets the TUC, will he discuss the trade deal with China? What assurances will he be able to give the TUC that, as a result of the deal, there will be no increased import penetration in sensitive industries such as textiles and footwear?

The Prime Minister

I cannot give any assurance today on those matters. It will clearly depend on the contracts that are entered into with China and I understand that they have still to be concluded. If we are to export, we must obviously import. Both sides of the equation go together, but we have taken action with selective import controls to protect some of our sensitive industries.