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Cbi, Tuc And Nedc

Volume 897: debated on Saturday 16 August 1975

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asked the Prime Minister when he next proposes to take the chair at a meeting of the NEDC.


asked the Prime Minister when he next proposes to take the chair at the NEDC.


asked the Prime Minister when he next proposes to meet the CBI and the TUC.



asked the Prime Minister when he will next meet the TUC and the CBI.


asked the Prime Minister when he next proposes to take the chair at the NEDC.


asked the Prime Minister when he next proposes to meet representatives from the TUC and the CBI.


asked the Prime Minister when he next intends to chair a meeting of the NEDC.

I refer my hon. Friends and hon. Members to the reply which I gave to the hon. Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) on 14th October.

I do not recall what that answer was. However, when the Prime Minister next takes the chair at a meeting of the NEDC will he explain to the assembled dignitaries there, and perhaps also—with the permission of the TUC, of course—to the House, why it is that, according to the latest figures published by the Brussels Commission, unemployment in this country is now higher than in any other member country of the European Community?

I gave that answer on Tuesday. The hon. Gentleman seems to have forgotten it. At the next meeting of the NEDC we shall consider an important paper on the approach to the new industrial strategy for this country, on which a great deal of work has been done by NEDC and the Government.

On unemployment, the decline in production began in the spring of 1973 under the Conservative Government. It has continued since then. The world depression has affected every country. There are a number of countries with much higher unemployment rates than ours.

If at the next meeting of the NEDC my right hon. Friend discusses the economic subjects on the agenda of the Heads of State meeting on 15th November, will he bear in mind that it would be a serious mistake to confine discussions about increasing exports to the other five countries represented, and that consideration should be given to all interested countries?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He will know that I invited the TUC and the CBI to come to me for separate meetings to give their advice about the matters which they think should be raised. There is no question of the six countries on that occasion looking only at their own internal interests or those of the group of six as a whole. Any decision which may follow our consideration of world economic problems will be taken by the regional and world-wide international organisations. Anything which affects other countries will be decided by other countries as well as our selves.

Does the Prime Minister recall that the Chancellor recently said that we must convince the world that the Government have a policy to control inflation? Bearing in mind that Government spending over the past six months is 40 per cent. higher than in the corresponding six months of last year, and that the Prime Minister appeared to tell the House in an answer on Tuesday that the Government would not be contemplating further expenditure cuts until the year after next, how does he expect to convince the world that the Government have such a policy?

I do not think that the hon. Gentleman has correctly reported what I said in the House. If he consults the Official Report he will see what I said on Tuesday about this matter. I understand that when my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer speaks at the Mansion House tonight, he may deal with Government expenditure and the public sector borrowing requirement. I am sure that he will exactly follow the practice adopted by his Conservative predecessors, but will be much more informative than they were. The hon. Gentleman and others will no doubt wish to pursue any statement that he makes.

With regard to convincing the world on the matter of our inflation policy, it is my understanding that not only the TUC, the miners and the Labour Party conference but the whole country supports the anti-inflation policy which I announced on 11th July, on which Her Majesty's loyal Opposition failed to vote but sat on their hands without having anything to say to the nation.

At the next NEDC meeting, or perhaps here, today, will the Prime Minister lift the veil on the topical row in the Common Market over the seat at the top table? Is he aware that many people in the Labour Party believe that the current dispute about the seat for Britain is no more than a smoke screen to cover up a transfer of power and control over North Sea oil from Britain to some of the other Common Market countries? Will the Prime Minister guarantee that no real transfer will take place?

My hon. Friend has misunderstood the situation somewhat. The conference about which this argument arises is not a Common Market conference but a conference, convened by the French Government, of producers and consumers, including, in contradistinction to earlier this year, commodity producers and consumers as well as oil producers. The French Government have made clear their intentions and told the Heads of Government Conference what they are doing. It is not a matter for argument among the Nine. We have suggested that it will be remarkable if it is not possible to get an agreed policy, at least by the eight countries if France pursues the chairmanship in this way. We are disappointed—as I am sure the whole House will be, and my hon. Friend—that, so far, there is no real agreement among the eight as to the policy that should be put forward. We believe that there should be. We believe that Britain has a very special position because of North Sea oil. There is no question of the Government's transferring national control and responsibility for that oil to any other body.

If the Prime Minister is correct and my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Blaker) misunderstood what the Prime Minister said on Tuesday, will the right hon. Gentleman be kind enough to say whether or not he will announce expenditure cuts in the current year? I want just a simple answer, without any flannel, please.

It is perfectly simple, and the question has been answered many times. I repeat what I said on Tuesday. In the autumn every Government look forward five years. The expenditure for this year has been approved by Parliament in the Estimates for this year. We are not proposing changes in this year's expenditure. That has been made clear in the House a hundred times. As to next year, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced in his Budget Statement some cuts compared with the previous financial programme. We are now at work on the programmes for the third, fourth and fifth years, which is what all Governments do. Those with experience in government, like a few on the Opposition Front Bench—very few—know that cuts for the current year are usually highly counter-productive and uneconomical.

Is the Prime Minister aware that he has not answered the supplementary questions put by my hon. Friends the Members for Blackpool, South (Mr. Blaker) and Chingford (Mr. Tebbit)? Does he agree with the Opposition that further Government expenditure cuts are essential, and when will he announce such cuts?

Yes, I did answer the question. I was asked whether there would be cuts for this year. I said that the Estimates had been approved by Parliament and that they remain. That is a clear answer that we are not cutting for this year. With regard to cuts for the future and the expenditure review which we are undertaking, normally at the turn of the year a Public Expenditure White Paper is published. We started that practice, and it has been followed for several years. That White Paper will set out the Government's expenditure programme for five years ahead and will embody the results of the review which is now taking place.

Before my right hon. Friend chairs the next meeting of the NEDC will he listen carefully to the voices of those who represent the textile industry in Lancashire? Will he take the opportunity to meet the textile workers and their representatives in Lancashire, perhaps tomorrow, but, if not, at some future date?

I am aware of the concern about the textile industry, and a statement has been made in the House. I shall be in Lancashire tomorrow, when I have a full programme of engagements meeting representatives of the textile unions. I have this afternoon given a Written Answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale (Mr. Noble)—[Interruption.] Hon. Members may laugh at my pronunciation—

The workers of Rossendale will note the frivolity with which hon. Members approach the problems of the textile industry. I have said that the right thing will be for a meeting to be held between myself, my right hon. Friends principally concerned and members of the United Textile Factory Workers' Association, on a local and national level, in London, and that has been arranged.

Following the Prime Minister's answer to the Shadow Leader of the Opposition—the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner)—will the right hon. Gentleman take into account, when he wishes to be separately represented at the conference, that North Sea oil is Scotland's oil and that he should be making arrangements for Scotland to be represented?

I have heard that view put forward before by the hon. Gentleman. I understand that Shetland does not regard it as Scotland's oil but as Shetland's oil, or at least the greater part of it. As it is the policy of the Scottish National Party to allow a free decision as to the devolution of Shetland and Orkney on a Faröese basis, the hon. Gentleman had better be careful should he ever be in a position to give them that choice. It will never be Scotland's oil. They want Britain to handle it.

With respect, the Prime Minister's remarks about public spending have added to the confusion rather than clearing it up. Are we to have any further spending cuts, or trimming of programmes, that have not yet been announced, to take effect next year?

I have already made it plain. The hon. Gentleman is one of the most highly literate but not one of the most highly numerate hon. Members. He may understand if I repeat my remarks. The Estimates for this year have been approved by the House and the expenditure proposals for next year were announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his Budget Statement this year. I have been concerned with the Government—like every other Government in past years—with expenditure in the third, fourth and fifth years of the five-year rolling programme.

The Prime Minister is answering supplementary questions on expenditure in relation to Estimates and not actual expenditure. Is he aware that actual expenditure this year is running at 47 per cent more than over the comparable period last year? If he does not intend to cut expenditure—and I understand that he does not—he can finance that extra expenditure only by taking more tax away from the pay packet or by more inflation. Which will he do?

As far as I know, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has no supplementary Budget in mind for this year. Our record on the printing of money is a great deal better than that of our predecessors. The money supply figure since we returned to office reflects a Government with responsibility—not like the Government of which the right hon. Lady was such a loyal member.

My right hon. Friend is dealing with the borrowing requirement and will answer Questions on it in the House. The right hon. Lady should know that at the end of every year there are sometimes Supplementary Estimates and sometimes shortfalls in expenditure. It is a pity that she never served on the Public Accounts Committee, or she would have known these things. Knowing the right hon. Lady's well-known commitments to massive cuts in public expenditure, I shall simply tell her that if she will send me any proposals we shall consider them on their merits.

The Prime Minister knows that the Government have already spent more in a half year than the increase budgeted for in the whole year. Where is he going to get that expenditure from? Will he give one straight answer?

I have made clear that we do not intend to increase public expenditure. As far as I am aware, there is no intention to introduce a supplementary Budget this year. This is being met on the borrowing requirement, and my right hon. Friend will make a statement.