HL Deb 12 December 1974 vol 355 cc773-5

3.19 p.m.

The Earl of SELKIRK

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government if they would make available to the House the latest authorised version of the "Social Contract".


My Lords, the Government's understanding of the social contract is set out on page 5 of the Labour Party's Manifesto of October 1974, to which my noble friend Lord Hughes recently drew the attention of the noble Earl. A copy has been placed in the Library.

The Earl of SELKIRK

My Lords, may I ask whether the Labour Party Manifesto is an official document and, while recognising that it is an important document, would it not have added to its weight to have given Parliament the opportunity of taking note of it? May I further ask whether, as the social contract is in fact a unilateral declaration, we could be informed of any variation which may be made in the future, and would such a course not be in line with the guidance of Erskine May?


My Lords, I think the noble Earl is not acquainted with the nature of the social contract. The social contract involves an understanding between the Government and the General Council of the Trades Union Congress. The Government will use their influence in Parliament to secure the economic and social policies set out in the Labour Party Manifesto, which is available to this House and to everybody outside. The General Council will use their influence upon their membership to counter inflation by laying down guidelines for wage settlements. To the best of my knowledge and belief, both parties have carried out their undertakings, and indeed some members of the General Council have shown very great courage in doing so.

The Earl of SELKIRK

My Lords, without in any way wishing to discourage the use of the social contract, may I draw the Minister's attention to the fact that there is no evidence in the document that the Government are a party to it at all?


My Lords, is not the latest and indeed the only authorised version of the social contract contained in a volume by the late Jean Jacques Rousseau?


My Lords, I would require notice of that, but I would say that the social contract, if it has many versions, is like the Bible—and no worse for that.


My Lords, I have here a copy of the Manifesto, which I brought along as a seamanlike precaution. May I ask the noble Lord whether he is aware that at the start of the Manifesto this paragraph about the social contract appears, but it is only in very general terms? Is the noble Lord aware that since the Government launched this last January they have persistently claimed that they believe in open Government? May I therefore ask: why are they being so secretive, and why is there not a document with the authority of the Cabinet put before both Houses of Parliament so that everyone in Parliament, and everyone outside, knows what is in the social contract?


My Lords, all the information in the social contract is available to everyone within this House and to everybody outside, and this has been the case for a very long time.


My Lords, would my noble friend agree that it is unwise to induge in criticism of the content and purpose of the social contract and, still more, to indulge in mirth about it? Does my noble friend realise that if the social contract fails there is a very poor lookout for this country? Would it not be desirable, in putting Questions about the social contract, to seek to support its content and purpose in the interests of all of us?


My Lords, could the Minister tell us: when is a contract not a contract?


My Lords, I am all in favour of the social contract, but may I ask the noble Lord to tell me where I may see it in writing in this building?


In the Library, my Lords.


My Lords, may I ask my noble friend whether there is also in the Library the document which was submitted by the General Council of the Trades Union Congress last September, in which the specific guidelines arc set out in much more detail than in the Manifesto?


My Lords, I would also point out that that document is on general sale.