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Secretary Of State For The Environment (Speech)

Volume 894: debated on Tuesday 24 June 1975

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Q1.

asked the Prime Minister if the public speech of the Secretary of State for the Environment concerning the need of policies to combat inflation made at Grimsby on 8th June represents Government policy.

Q7.

asked the Prime Minister if the speech by the Secretary of State for the Environment on economic matters at Grimsby on 8th June represents the policy of Her Majesty's Government.

With permission, I will answer Question No. 01 and Question No. 07 together, Sir.

I have nothing to add to the reply which I gave in answer to a supplementary question from the hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Morrison) on 12th June.

Does the Prime Minister recollect that that was the speech in which the Secretary of State for the Environment criticised Government policies as having put this country on a disaster course, indeed a suicide course? Is he aware that since then, on Saturday last, the Chancellor of the Exchequer said that there were only six weeks to that disaster? Is he further aware that today there are only 39 days left to disaster day? When will he act?

The hon. Gentleman has totally falsified what my right hon. Friend said. He did not say that it was the consequence of Government policies. If the hon. Gentleman had studied Government policies he would know which Government to blame. On Saturday I spoke on exactly similar lines to those of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He referred to the need for the urgent action that we are working on. He said "at the time". He did not say that we were six weeks from disaster. The hon. Gentleman should look at what my right hon. Friend said and not falsify it in this manner.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that, whatever actions are taken by the Government to combat inflation, he will ensure that the Government's priorities will mean that the sick, the old and the disabled who need a compassionate society to care for them will not be in the front line of suffering as they have been in past attacks on inflation by the Conservative Party?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to stress that. What we have said, and what I said on Saturday, is that anyone who tries to get and in future succeeds in getting more money than the country can afford will be causing the greatest suffering of all to the people who cannot look after themselves, such as those mentioned by my hon. Friend.

As last month the Prime Minister delayed taking anti-inflation action because of the referendum and this month his reason for delay appears to be the Woolwich, West by-election, may I ask him to recognise that the nation is coming to feel that he is unfitted, unwilling and unable to take any counter-inflation, action whatever? If that is so, will he now resign?

The hon. Gentleman is wrong in both his hypotheses. What is important is to get the right answer, and the right answer must be on the basis of consent and consensus.

Does my right hon. Friend still agree with the statements that he and many of his colleagues made during the last General Election campaign when he said that to help the old, the sick, the unemployed and those in the bottom strata of our society we should need the Industry Bill and associated measures of public ownership? Has he noticed that, notwithstanding the local difficulties with which we are beset, so full of contradictions are the Opposition in the Woolwich, West by-election that the local candidate has had to have his election address rewritten three times to comply with the statements made by the right hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker), the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition and the right hon. guru of the Tory Party?

My hon. Friend correctly recalls what I said in the election campaign and what I have said ever since on this question. He will, I know, be the first to agree that, as I have just said, since there are limited real resources available in this country from production and we have to allow for exports, oil prices and so on, if more is taken out by some who have power at least to attempt to take it out, those he has described suffer. The Industry Bill is going ahead and a number of amendments are being tabled tonight for Report which will fulfil what has been said by my right hon. Friends who have been in charge of the Bill up to now. I refer to my right hon. Friend who was in charge of the Bill and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry.

With regard to what has been happening at the Woolwich, West by-election, I was not so much concerned with the position of the Conservative candidate as with the fact that on two successive days this week radio and television, not to mention the Press, have been full of total contradictions between leading Privy Councillors under the command of the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition.

As responsibility for the economic position of the country is that of the Government, and as further delay and uncertainly serve only to damage the pound daily, will the Prime Minister say when he expects to be in a position to bring a package of economic measures before the House for its approval?

As I have said, what is important—[Hon. Members: "Answer".] What is important, as I have said, is to get the right answer and the right package. That will not be the package that the right hon. Lady proclaims even without support from her colleagues. It is more important to get the right answer on the basis of consent —[Hon. Members: "When?") It is more important to get the right answer on the basis of consent and consensus, which takes time—the Opposition tried to do without that when they were the Government and, of course, they failed—than to get the wrong answer on a basis that divides the country. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer set a timetable. I hope that the answer will come considerably quicker than the timetable he has set.

Will the Price Minister at least undertake to bring measures before the House before it rises for the Summer Recess?

Yes, Sir. Any measures brought before the House—and I stress the important, with which I hope the right hon. Lady would agree, of getting consent and consensus from those concerned—should be reported to the House, I entirely agree with the right hon. Lady, before the recess.

Surely the Prime Minister will confirm that for Privy Councillors to disagree on policy matters is nothing new and that he is not experiencing it for the first time. To revert to the speech of the Secretary of State for the Environment, does the Prime Minister remember that his right hon. Friend said that the Government's most urgent task was to bring about basic changes in the social contract to make it an effective weapon? Does the Prime Minister agree with that priority? If so, what changes would he like to see?

Yes, I agree with that priority. That has been stated both by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer and by myself before the speech was made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment. The changes that there should be in the social contract are currently being discussed, as the right hon. Gentleman will know, by the TUC. The TUC and the CBI are meeting today for discussions on these matters. I and my colleagues have had a number of meetings with both organisations.