HC Deb 15 March 1979 vol 964 cc691-3
Q1. Mr. Dykes

asked the Prime Minister what plans he has to hold a meeting with the Trades Union Congress.

The Prime Minister (Mr. JamesCallaghan)

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. Dykes

Since the Prime Minister will undoubtedly be discussing rising prices with the TUC again soon, does he still stand by his solemn statement made on ITV on 20 July 1978 that I guarantee that prices and inflation will not go back into double figures in the course of 1979 "?

The Prime Minister

I think that that statement must be amended in the light of what has taken place since that date. The policy that the Government announced at that time would undoubtedly have reduced inflation, but a number of factors intervened, including the vote of the Opposition before Christmas, which removed any sanctions from the hands of the Government in these matters. They lit the fuse. They must stand the results of some of the consequences.

Mr. Molloy

When my right hon. Friend meets the TUC, will he make clear how the Leader of the Opposition disapproved of his endeavours to defend the British people, especially on prices? If, by some tragedy, she came to power, recent industrial skirmishes would appear trivial. The attitude of the Leader of the Opposition on issues that affect ordinary working people would cause the most serious crisis this country has ever faced.

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir. I can understand my hon. Friend's concern about these matters, although I was glad to see that the hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. Nott), who does not appear to be here this afternoon, made a similar statement. It repeated, in perhaps even more vicious language than mine, what I said at the European Council. I understand that the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) has been on the air today expressing his view. I do not envy the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition the task of trying to put those views together.

Mrs. Thatcher

I can cope.

The Prime Minister

I am glad to hear that. I suppose it means that we shall get a retraction from the hon. Member for St. Ives just as we have had a retraction on shipbuilding from the hon. Member for Surrey, North-West (Mr. Grylls).

Mr. David Steel

When the Prime Minister next meets the TUC, will he indicate that the 10.1 per cent. figure of inflation forecast by the Price Commission must serve as a terrible warning to the movement? If a voluntary incomes policy cannot be achieved, any Government of this country must retain the right to introduce an effective and enforceable incomes policy.

The Prime Minister

As the right hon. Gentleman said, this is a forecast. We shall see tomorrow the actual rate of increase, when the retail price index is published. Although this forecast has frequently turned out to be accurate, we had better see the actual position when the index is published. As to the future, the right hon. Gentleman knows that I need no convincing about the seriousness of a rising inflation rate both on growth and on employment prospects. I am glad to say that as a result of the most recent discussions between the TUC and ourselves there is an agreement to work out policies that would reduce the rate of inflation to 5 per cent. or below within three years. That, I think, the country as a whole must stick by.

Mr. Kinnock

In my right hon. Friend's reply to the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition, was he not rather unsympathetic, especially now that she appears to be the last pro-Marketeer in Britain? Is not this disturbance manifested by her use of the word"abrasiveness "? For the right hon. Lady to protest a dislike of abrasiveness is rather like Count Dracula professing a distaste for blood. Will my right hon. Friend give an undertaking to increase his abrasiveness until he rubs out altogether the common agricultural policy?

The Prime Minister

If it is language that is objectionable, I am prepared to rely upon the hon. Member for St. Ives, an Opposition spokesman, who said: to oppose this situation vigorously is not anti-European or carping at the edges, it is a necessary protest. I assume that if it is not"carping at the edges"it is hardly abrasive to say so. The right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) must not allow his nostalgia for the past to overcome the facts of the present.