Skip to main content

Social Contract

Volume 887: debated on Tuesday 4 March 1975

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.


asked the Prime Minister whether the public speech by the Secretary of State for Employment on 14th February at Ebbw Vale on the subject of the social contract represents Government policy.


asked the Prime Minister whether the Secretary of State for Employment's public speech at Ebbw Vale on the social contract on Friday 14th February represents Government policy.


asked the Prime Minister whether the public speech by the Secretary of State for Employment on the social contract at Ebbw Vale on 14th February represented Government policy.

The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that the Secretary of State for Employment has since developed his theme. As the Prime Minister, by virtue of his own frequent appeals for restraint in pay claims within the social contract, must be classed as an economic illiterate in his right hon. Friend's eyes, will he take this opportunity to express his full support for those of his Cabinet colleagues, such as the Secretary of State for Education and Science, who seek in their speeches to underline the wage responsibilities of the social contract, or will the Prime Minister, too, welsh on those responsibilities?

While the matter does not technically arise on this Question, as the speech referred to was about the miners' settlement, I am happy to say, on the point raised by the hon. Gentleman so touchingly and movingly, that the House can leave it to me to ensure that the normal rules in these matters are observed. [An HON. MEMBER: "What rules?"] The rules of every Government in this country. But while my colleagues and I have been urging for months, before both trade union and other audiences, compliance with the social contract guidelines, I must tell the House—and I want this to be understood—that no Minister has at any time over those months proposed any alternative policy to the social contract. [Interruption.] Certainly no Minister has proposed a return to the disastrous policies of a year ago this week, based on statutory controls and the three-day week. I thought that what I said would be cheered by Opposition Members, because I am glad to feel that on this matter there is total bipartisanship in the House. I understand that the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition has now forsworn the statutory pay policy of her predecessor which she supported when in government.

Does my right hon. Friend appreciate that no useful advice is to be gained on policy of any kind from the economic sub-literates on the Opposition benches, and that far from unemployment, as offered by them, and statutory incomes policy, as undertaken by them, being the cure for our economic problem, that problem and the problems of our democracy can be overcome[HON. MEMBERS: "Too long."]—only by means of persuasion and example, which are the basis of the social contract?

I must say with regret that I disagreed with what my hon. Friend said at the beginning of his question. It is wrong to say that we cannot learn from the Opposition. We can learn from their experience, as they have now done. But I join my hon. Friend in expressing great anxiety about what have clearly become the Conservatives' policies, although they have not yet been made articulate—monetarist policies which can lead only to unemployment.

Is the Prime Minister aware that the Secretary of State's speech was also about the social contract? Is he or is he not satisfied that the convention of collective Cabinet responsibility still exists in regard to the social contract?

Certainly. Many of my right hon. Friends and I have been urging compliance with the social contract over many months. But if I want to study collective responsibility I will not look at the Opposition benches—[HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."]—because for precisely three weeks the Opposition Front Bench has been dissociating itself from everything it did under the previous Prime Minister.

Will my right hon. Friend put a guillotine on his answers to the silly questions asked by the Opposition? I should like to know whether my right hon. Friend will be visiting Beckermet.

I know that my hon. Friend, with his long experience and wisdom in these matters, can put a correct evaluation on the quality and motives of the questions of hon. Members opposite. I shall get to Beckermet when the relevant Question is asked.

Is it not just possible that the Secretary of State for Education and Science is right? Why is it that after one year of the social contract as administered by the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Employment we have in this country a rate of inflation which is far higher than that of any of our competitors—twice that of the United States and three times that of Germany?

In so far as my hon. Friend was following the speeches which I made, from the TUC onwards last September, urging compliance with the contract, he was expressing the view of all of us and, I should hope, of the whole House since the Opposition have rejected any alternative policy.

The figures which were published last month were inflated by the Tory Government's thresholds—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—which throughout the election I said I supported; they are a very considerable proportion of this. Secondly, the figures include long overdue settlements, which I have not heard criticised by any right hon. or hon. Gentlemen, for people such as nurses and teachers who had been left behind and who received back pay for anything from eight to 10 months. The hon. Gentleman must study the figures before he asks questions about them.

Will my right hon. Friend cut down his replies to the Opposition's ridiculous supplementary questions? Does he realise that they do not want the social contract to succeed? Therefore, will he bear in mind that if any disagreement arises between my right hon. Friends he must advise them not to express it in public?

My hon. Friend is right in what he says about the Opposition's motives. But they have no alternative policy. As there have been suggestions this afternoon of a certain marginal crossing of ministerial lines, I feel a deep sense of responsibility to engage in some educational help for Opposition Members.

Bearing in mind that in answer to a Question in November the Prime Minister said that all his Ministers were responsible for the social contract, may I ask whether the Friday speech of the Secretary of State for Education and Science represented Government policy?

So far as it involves support for the social contract, yes. So far as it has been interpreted, rightly or wrongly, as proposing other alternative policies, I am happy to say that my right hon. Friend at no point, in public or elsewhere, has advocated an alternative policy.

As no one suggests that the Secretary of State for Education and Science was proposing an alternative policy but was merely suggesting that the present policy was not working, and as the Secretary of State for Employment said that the social contract was the best shield against worsening inflation and rising unemployment, and as many of his colleagues have said that it is not working, what measures does the right hon. Gentleman propose to back up his Ministers who are trying to make it work?

The social contract is the right policy. I have not heard an alternative policy from the official Opposition, and I am glad that they have repudiated the policy which they were following a year ago. I pay this tribute to the right hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe). He at least has produced an alternative policy. He supports a statutory policy. The Opposition have thrown over what they supported in office. I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman. I think he is wrong, but at least he is showing more honesty than the official Opposition.