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Prime Minister (Speech)

Volume 889: debated on Thursday 10 April 1975

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asked the Prime Minister if he will place in the Library a copy of his public speech at Taunton on 8th March on wages, prices and jobs.

I refer the hon. Member to the reply which I gave to the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Rost) on 14th March.

Bearing in mind that on 18th December last year the Chancellor of the Exchequer told the House that 25 per cent. of the people who had settled since July had received increases outside the TUC guidelines, can the Prime Minister say, with or without the aid of his slide rule, what the comparable figure is now? In particular, can he say how it compares with the 43 per cent. of the Parliamentary Labour Party who were good enough to follow him into the Lobby last night?

The hon. Gentleman's supplementary question obviously flopped, did it not? No doubt it was very carefully prepared. The question of compliance with the guidelines is the subject of frequent statements by my right hon. Friends, myself and others. However, I have not noticed from the Conservative benches at any time—perhaps the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition will give a lead here—a desire to express satisfaction and pleasure when difficult industrial situations have been resolved, including that concerning the London dockers, who are facing great anxiety about the loss of dock employment.

However, on the general issue, I commend to the hon. Gentleman the very wise words of the Opposition Front Bench spokesman on financial affairs, the hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell), who warned his party, including those on the Front Bench, about a neurosis—[An HON. MEMBER: "Reading".] I can read actually. The hon. Member for Guildford warned his party about drifting into
"a neurosis about trade union pay claims'
and said that
"A Government which now tried to take on the unions purely over pay would be fighting the wrong battle in the wrong war."
I wonder whether the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Lawson) and the Leader of the Opposition agree with their hon. Friend.

Since the social contract forms the cornerstone of the Government's economic policy—[HON. MEMBERS: "Where is it?"]—would it not be advisable if those who have sincerely observed it for so long were given some help in terms of job protection and if we had immediate quotas imposed on textile imports?

My hon. Friend knows that the question of textiles is being seriously considered. Successive Governments of both parties have imposed controls in these affairs when there has been dumping or unfair competition. We are examining this matter very closely indeed.

Does not the right hon. Gentleman think that after the events of last night he would be well advised to avoid the use of phrases like "obvious flop"?

Since the right hon. Gentleman was a distinguished Minister in, I think, the 1960s Government who was then relegated to the back benches and who spent half of the last Parliament on the back benches, I do not have to look far to see an obvious flop. It may be that this is one of his cyclical returns to the Front Bench. I assure him that it will not last long and that he is always better from the back benches. When he got up, I thought he was about to answer on behalf of his very shy right hon. Friend the leader of his party my question about whether the statements of its finance spokesman represent the policy of the Conservative Party.

May I ask the Prime Minister whether he heard the announcement on the radio today that the Government have decided to make a further increase to the Civil Service above and outside of the social contract? If that be the case, may I ask him please not to follow the example of both Governments in recent years by announcing this during the forthcoming recess, because there are many hon. Members who would like to discuss this in the House?

I may be wrong but I have the impression this week that the House is anything but in recess. I did not hear the programme, but with regard to what appears to have been an incorrect statement broadcast this morning, this was taken from an equally incorrect statement in the Press. There has been no decision on the pay of the clerical, industrial and other grades. The negotiations are still continuing. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving me the chance to correct any false impression that may have been created by incorrect reports.

Since the Prime Minister's excellent speech at Taunton dealt with jobs and full employment, and since the Prime Minister has powers of hiring and firing people—

Yes, but at least my problems are not in this House. Will the Prime Minister tell us, in the light of Monday's guidelines whereby Questions are likely to be transferred from politically unreliable Ministers to reliable Ministers, whether the 7 per cent. of Ministers will now have their Questions transferred to politically reliable Ministers, and, if so, whether he will put those other Ministers on half pay or whether he will declare them redundant and replace them with Ministers who can do a full day's work for a full day's pay in the national interest?

Unlike the former Leader of the Conservative Party a year ago, I never for a moment thought of hiring the right hon. Gentleman, even unpaid.

The right hon. Gentleman in referring to my speech at Taunton is straying a long way from the original Question. I have made clear the position of Ministers in reply to questions earlier. If the right hon. Gentleman wants to go on pleasing his party, which I am assured is delighted with him for his frivolity in deep political matters, that is something for his party. It does not concern the rest of the House.

If Ministers stay in office when their views are rejected by a substantial majority of the House, how can they be said to be accountable to a sovereign Parliament?

We now know that the right hon. Lady stayed in office for three and a half years when she did not agree with a decision. If there were one or two other decisions, perhaps she will one day get up and say what they were.

I have answered this question a number of times already. I have made it plain that Ministers have a full job of work with their departmental responsibilities. Perhaps the right hon. Lady will now say whether she agrees with the hon. Member for Guildford.