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Tuc (Meeting)

Volume 894: debated on Thursday 26 June 1975

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Q1.

asked the Prime Minister if he will make a statement on his most recent meeting with the TUC.

Q10.

asked the Prime Minister whether he will make a statement on his most recent meeting with the TUC.

I met members of the TUC at the informal meeting of the TUC-Labour Party Liaison Committee on 23rd June. We reviewed the present economic situation and devoted some time to the TUC's continuing work on the development of the social contract.

Will my right hon. Friend consider the six-point plan that was produced by the TUC yesterday? Will he tell us, in that simple Yorkshire bluntness and directness for which he is famous, whether he agrees with it? Will he give a straight answer "Yes" or "No"?

Yes, Sir, I greatly welcome the statement that was made yesterday. Indeed, on Tuesday I said that I thought it was a big step forward that they were talking about relating wage settlements over the next year to the target for price increases and not to the events of the previous year. I greatly welcome it. We shall want to discuss it with them and we shall want to build on it. I believe that is extremely helpful. I am sure the whole House, including the Conservative Opposition—will welcome the very big move forward to which my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), in his blunt Derbyshire manner, has drawn attention.

When the Prime Minister next meets the TUC will he discuss with it the removal of Mr. Boyd, the moderate and democratically elected General Secretary of the AEUW, from his seat on the General Council? If the Prime Minister believes that trade unions are an important part of the nation's economy, surely he cannot turn a blind eye to the move of a few extremists to ensure that the will of the majority shall not prevail.

I knew Johnny Boyd before the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Lamont) was born. I share the description of Mr. Boyd given by the hon. Gentleman. I never found any Tory, when the Conservative Party was sitting on the Government side of the House, standing up for anything that Johnny Boyd said, but I am glad to see them doing so now. This is a matter for the TUC and the union, but I shall certainly regret the disappearance of Johnny Boyd from the higher councils of the TUC in which he has played such a tremendous part over the years. I have met him on a number of occasions in that and in other capacities.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the increasing rate of unemployment is one of the subjects which are causing great concern and which are discussed at the joint meetings? Can he assure the House that the Government will implement that part of the scheme which my right hon. Friend outlined to the House in his statement on 23rd May, namely, to give Government assistance for stockpiling purposes in the textile industry and so prevent the closure of the Empress Mill, Ince, and thus help to save 350 jobs?

I am glad that my hon. Friend welcomed the statement I made on 23rd May concerning the very special problems of the textile, clothing, footwear and other industries. The problem of unemployment has been discussed at almost every meeting that I, and indeed my colleagues, have had with the TUC since the Government were formed 15 months ago. This is a matter which is raised in the six points which have already been referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover. I am not clear about the position of the Conservative Party, but we reject the deliberate use of unemployment and monetarism as a means of solving this problem.

On wage inflation, would it not be in the national interest, certainly in the public sector to start with, if wage settlements could be made on the same day in the year?

That would be a difficult thing to organise unless there were a statutory determination that all wage settlements be done on the one day. I do not think that has ever been our practice under any Government. But there is a problem, to which the TUC draws attention in its document, regarding the rather protracted wage round. I think that paragraph 64 of the document put to the economic committee of the TUC states that it is very necessary that those who settle early in the annual round at a moderate rate should have some protection, some ability to be confident, that later settlements do not go a great deal higher and leave them in the lurch. This is one of the matters we have to discuss with the TUC following yesterday's discussions.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that words about the creation of "inflation" and "unemployment" come ill from a Government and Prime Minister who are now allowing the rate of unemployment to rise by 50,000 a month? Is he aware that in his consultations with the TUC it would help the country if it knew what the target of price increases was likely to be for the coming year?

On the first point, I recall that unemployment was over 2 million when we came into office and that all the prognoses both of inflation and of unemployment suggested a very big increase in unemployment because the previous Government's boom had collapsed in the middle of 1973 before the confrontation and the three-day week. I said what I did because the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph) cast doubt on the unemployment figures and thought that they were very minimal indeed in real terms. I do not think that is the official view of the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw) with his experience of these matters. Both he and the Leader of the Conservative Party, in her famous article in the Sunday Express, rather suggested that there was something "phoney" about the figures. Therefore, we reject the deliberate use of unemployment. But those on the Opposition Front Bench, in contradiction to some below the Gangway—though I cannot quite sort it out between one and another—who are advocating a monetary solution, which has not been repudiated by the Leader of the Opposition, are advocating the deliberate use of unemployment.