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Tuc And Cbi

Volume 885: debated on Thursday 6 February 1975

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asked the Prime Minister when he next proposes to meet the TUC and the CBI.

Before I answer this Question, Mr. Speaker, may I ask for a moment's indulgence. In so doing I do not want to rob the House of Question Time, and perhaps in your discretion you can take account of that point.

I feel that the House would not wish to leave the events of this week without referring to the departure from his accustomed place of the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath).

While it has not escaped the notice of the House and the country over the years that the right hon. Gentleman and I have had our differences, and that neither of us has been diffident in expressing them, those differences have been political, representing a deep divergence of political philosophies. They have not been personal.

The right hon. Gentleman has made a most notable contribution to the work of the House and has done so much to make it a more workable institution. Increasingly, there will be time to appreciate what the right hon. Gentleman has done for the processes and machinery of Government, and in many and indeed fundamental areas of policy. Those are matters which history as much as his contemporaries will be called upon to judge. But, Sir, in the House of Commons setting, in this Chamber and in the conduct of business behind your Chair, whether on Privy Councillor terms or otherwise, he has been ever considerate and understanding, and always concerned to serve the best interest of this House and its Members.

There, and in other ways I can recall—

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. If this is not an answer to a Question, are we to have a new precedent by which the Prime Minister or others start to make statements during Question Time not in answer to any Question? If the Prime Minister wishes to make a statement or any comment, the usual time to do so is at the end of Question Time and not in the middle of it.

Further to that point of of order, Mr. Speaker. The House is in a difficulty. Can you say whether you will accept the suggestion that, since Question Time is being cut into, it should be extended?

But for the interventions I would certainly have been able to manage it, but time has been taken up by them.

There have been precedents over many years, as many hon. Members will remember. I was saying that in the conduct of business behind your Chair, Mr. Speaker, the right hon. Gentleman has always been concerned to serve the best interests of the House and its Members. There, and in other ways, I can recall many acts of individual consideration and kindness going far beyond the normal exchanges and activities of parliamentary life in our democracy.

In whatever field the right hon. Gentleman's talents and experience may be deployed, and in his continuing membership of this House, which we welcome, I know that the whole House will wish him well. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]

I can tell my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) that I met representatives of the TUC, as the House knows, on 20th January, and I expect to have a further meeting with the CBI next week.

Since my right hon. Friend has referred to the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath), I, too, should like to seek the indulgence of the House to say that the right hon. Gentleman has shown me very great personal kindness in times of very great trial. I endorse all that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said.

Since the social contract has been attacked by the Opposition almost as savagely as they are now attacking each other, is my right hon. Friend aware that the 75 per cent. success of the social contract is a fine achievement, in comparison with the 100 per cent. failure of policy confrontation pursued by the Opposition—not only by the former Leader of the Opposition, the right hon. Member for Sidcup, but by every right hon. Gentleman on the Tory Opposition benches? As 75 per cent. is by no means good enough, however, will my right hon. Friend consider inviting the TUC and the CBI to a specially convened conference to discuss ways of implementing the social contract 100 per cent.?

I agree with a great deal of what my hon. Friend said. Indeed, he will have seen the urgent appeals made on behalf of the TUC for further compliance with the social contract. I do not think that it would be appropriate to call a conference with the TUC and the CBI at this time. It is for them to get together in all matters affecting the future of industry. The House will have noticed that they are in fact doing so. They met earlier this week. It is for them to work out this matter. We are in touch with both the TUC and the CBI and they are in touch with each other.

Does the Prime Minister agree with the distinguished authors of "Crisis '75", many of whom are Labour supporters and nearly all of whom have said that the root of most of our problems lies in excessive trade union monopoly power with which the social contract is not strong enough to deal? What does he propose to do about it?

I have noted these comments, which carry the authority which the particular individuals expressing them exercise. However, I have not seen from them or from anyone else a suggestion of an alternative to the present policy within a democracy. The alternative supported by the hon. Gentleman a year ago was a ghastly disaster for this country.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the TUC is worried about increasing unemployment? Has he seen the front page of this month's Record, the paper of the Transport and General Workers' Union—my union—which suggests that to overcome the problem immediately there should be an expansion of State enterprise activity? Has my right hon. Friend any comment to make on that view?

Yes. We have been in close touch with the Transport and General Workers' Union and all other unions, particularly with the TUC and, of course, NEDC. For some months now my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer and I have expressed the view that the danger of unemployment in this country and elsewhere—in America it is very much more serious than in this country—is now as great as the problem of inflation, both of which are connected. We have been taking all measures within our power, starting with my right hon. Friend's Budget in November, to help to avert the worst features of unemployment which were already endemic in this country a year ago and about which we warned at that time.

I thank the Prime Minister for what he said about my right hon. Friend the Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath).

May I ask whether, in view of the latest CBI survey—published a day or two ago—which shows the most depressing trends about the likely prospects for unemployment, investment and exports, he will have urgent talks with the CBI about what can be done to help industry to overcome these trends, particularly bearing in mind the great damage that the CBI believes will be done by the Industry Bill?

I note what the right hon. Gentleman said and thank him for his opening remarks.

The right hon. Gentleman will recall that two days ago I answered a Question from the Leader of the Opposition about the CBI survey and the Financial Times survey. I have nothing to add to what I said on that occasion except that, as I indicated in my original answer, I am hoping to meet the CBI next week. The CBJ suggested another meeting following the one that we had a couple of weeks ago, and I look forward to that meeting next week.