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Volume 929: debated on Tuesday 29 March 1977

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I refer my hon. Friend to the reply that I gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Corbett) on 3rd February.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the improving economic situation in this country, despite the world recession, has been brought about by the co-operation that this Government have had from the trade union movement? Will he seek to ensure the continuation of that co-operation by meeting the trade union leaders soon after the Budget and considering the positive proposals that they are putting forward in their economic review to deal with the question of unemployment?

Yes, Sir. I certainly undertake to do that, because there is no doubt that the TUC's co-operation in these matters is vital. We also need the co-operation of the CBI on prices and other matters. A Bill concerning this will be brought forward very shortly. I think that it is fair to say that the Government have carried this country through the deepest world recession, from which the world is now beginning to emerge, with less hardship and less poverty than has ever before been known in the history of these islands.

To what extent will the Liberal Party be involved in the Government's talks with the unions over phase 3 of the incomes policy?

If you care to arrange a period of Question Time for the Liberal Party, Mr. Speaker, I am sure that its Leader will be very happy to answer.

Can my right hon. Friend confirm that every Government Department and every Minister has been told to try to take seriously the Liberals, especially the Bunny Girl manager?

Like many of my hon. Friends, I was very happy to have Liberal support in the Lobbies last week. It has preserved the Government in office and will enable us to continue to carry out our policies.

Has the Prime Minister been able to tell the TUC why it is that, to use the right hon. Gentleman's expression, in the Government's carrying Britain through the world recession the standard of living has fallen consistently in Britain whilst it has not so fallen in other Western European developed countries? This is a matter which is of interest to all of us, but especially to the TUC.

As always, the hon. Member has put his finger on a very important point. What is at stake is the level of Britain's industrial performance—whether there is sufficient productivity, whether investment is high enough, whether our managers are sufficiently good and whether our trade union practices are not too restrictive. These are the important issues and upon these—and in a major sense only upon these—our standard of living over the next decade will depend.

When my right hon. Friend next meets the TUC will he discuss with it the latest TUC economic report, which clearly points out that only by direct intervention in our economic affairs in a Socialist fashion can we deal with the intolerable level of unemployment that is facing this country today?

The Government never have any hesitation in intervening, because the free market economy is not capable of providing unaided the total level of life that is satisfactory, or the appropriate level of unemployment that is acceptable. This is being accepted increasingly throughout Europe today, and we shall intervene whenever it is necessary to do so in order to maintain the standard of living of our people.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Just before you joined the Chair the Prime Minister said that he would hope to assist in making a period of time available for questioning Members of the Liberal Party. Despite the fact that the Liberal Party has just appointed more Shadow Ministers than it has actual hon. Members in this House, it would be for the convenience of the House if we could question them. Would it be possible—I am sure that all parties would be in favour, particularly the Liberals, who would like a Question Time of their own—to make these arrangements after Easter? Could you facilitate this and through your good offices help to set it up?