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Social Contract

Volume 889: debated on Tuesday 25 March 1975

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Q3.

asked the Prime Minister if he will place in the Library a transcript of his television broadcast of 3rd March on the social contract.

I have been asked to reply.

I refer the hon. Member to the reply which my right hon. Friend gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) on 14th March.

While the Prime Minister and his right hon. Friends gaze in admiration at their social contract, has any of them noticed that the nation is sliding inexorably towards bankruptcy? When will the Government learn the lesson on inflation that they seem slowly but painfully to have learned over Europe—namely, that running away from difficult decisions does not solve them and that, on inflation as on Europe, the country is waiting for the moment when the Government will give priority to the national interest over the interests of the Labour Party?

In view of all that, I am sure that the hon. Member and his hon. Friends wish to help. Perhaps they will now tell us and the country what their policy is on incomes. Now that they have abolished the policy of statutory restraint and control of incomes, perhaps they will tell us what their policy is.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that part of the social contract includes a commitment to both municipalisation and improvement of housing? Is he aware that there is deep concern among Labour authorities throughout the country about the very serious cut-backs in resources being devoted to this purpose? Will he take steps to restore these cuts so that confidence in this aspect of the social contract can be maintained?

My hon. Friend, who has great interest in these matters, will know that the bids by local authorities far exceed the resources available. The Government are therefore concentrating on the worst stress areas in this part of their policy.

The hon. Gentleman should examine the engineers' settlement very closely—[HON. MEMBERS: "What is it?"] We do not know yet. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] Because there is no settlement yet; that is why. We do not know, but certainly the present indications are that it will be.

Q4.

asked the Prime Minister if he will place in the Library a copy of his speech on the social contract at Taunton on 8th March.

I have been asked to reply.

My right hon. Friend did so on 10th March, Sir.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in that speech the Prime Minister singled out the railways and said that if the burden of their costs became unreasonable there would have to be a cut in services? In view of today's statement that British Rail is "bust and bankrupt" as never before, will he give the House an assurance that the Government will not bail out British Rail to satisfy the unreasonable demands of the railwaymen, even if that means a reduction in services?

I answered a question on this matter, I think, the week before last. My right hon. Friend was making exactly the same point as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment made in his constituency—that pressing the burden of costs beyond what the traffic could bear would inevitably lead to a cut in services.

Will my right hon. Friend think again about the Government's proposal of the calamitous cut in improvement grants referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Mrs. Miller)? It is particularly in the worst areas like Islington that these cuts are being made. Is he aware, for instance, that unless this proposal is dropped many councils will be forced to keep old houses empty because they do not have the money to repair them—including houses which they were encouraged to buy and resell—and that many thousands of tenants will be forced to remain in houses without a bath, hot water or an inside lavatory?

As I was saying, government is a matter of priorities. As my hon. Friend knows, the bids put in by the local authorities far exceed the resources available for this. Therefore, it is a matter of priorities and the Government are giving priority to the very worst areas. But if my hon. Friend has any special point, I should be very glad to bring it to my right hon. Friend's attention.

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that it is time to replace the social contract with a work contract, one that will recognise the need to increase productivity and put an end to stoppages like that of the dustcart drivers in Glasgow and the electricians at Glasgow Airport who have closed that airport for several weeks? Exactly what steps do the Government propose to take to end those disputes?

We very much regret those stoppages; my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made a statement recently in the House. What we want to know, I repeat, is what is the policy of the Conservative Party—

Yes, but the Conservative Party aspires to be the Government. It has abandoned its statutory incomes policy and the country is entitled to know what its policy is.

Would it be news to the right hon. Gentleman to hear that he is responsible now?

I should have thought that our present economic situation demanded the support of all parties in this House —[HON. MEMBERS: "NO."] If hon. Members opposite are saying "No", meaning that it does not demand their support, the country knows where we stand.