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Ministers' Newspaper Articles

Volume 940: debated on Thursday 1 December 1977

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asked the Prime Minister what advice or instructions he as Prime Minister has given concerning the publication of newspaper articles by members of his Government.

Ministers are not debarred from contributing to a newspaper on occasion for the purpose of supplementing other means of informing the public about the work of their Department.

Was the Prime Minister told that I let his office know, in order to enable him to compose an unambiguous answer, that this question arose from an article in The Guardian by the Under-Secretary of State for Employment? In this article the Under-Secretary opposed any return to free collective bargaining. In view of the article, and the reported remarks of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, is the Prime Minister still committed to free, unfettered collective pay bargaining?

I was very grateful to the hon. Member for telephoning my office this morning, although somehow I do not think he did so in order to help me. I understand that this article, or what has now been turned into an article, was a speech that my hon. Friend made to his constituency Labour Party general management committee. Even Ministers are entitled to talk about these matters to their constituency parties.

As for free collective bargaining, I ceased to worship that 10 years ago. [Interruption.] Yes, I went to the TUC Congress and said it there. I do not think that collective bargaining is the means of obtaining justice and fair play in this country, but at the moment I do not know a better system.

The hon. Member might look at the points that I looked at in the Under-Secretary's speech. It has always been my position that
"no real advances are possible without TUC backing and direct involvement".
In saying that, my hon. Friend was pointing out that arising out of the present difficulties and discontents there must be continuing discussion about the ways and means of improving the system.

If there is no justice in collective bargaining, will the Prime Minister publish an article explaining what justice there is in a pay policy that discriminates against the most vulnerable workers in the public service, such as the firemen, or those in the private sector who are most susceptible to Government sanctions, and leaves the most powerful workers alone and unscathed? Is it not time now to end this anomalous and iniquitous policy—

I am not sure that my hon. Friend is not reinforcing my view about the difficulties, weaknesses, ills and evils associated with the present system. Its advantages—the main advantage is one that I wish to see the trade union leaders practise this year—lie in moderate wage claims. They do not have to claim excessive increases. In future there will be public discussion, and the Chancellor also is entitled to a little thinking about one of the major problems facing this country at present. We might have a little more thinking from the Opposition Benches on this matter. Their total lack of policy on such things was exposed in the Financial Times yesterday.

Will the Prime Minister say whether he agrees with the Chancellor's thinking? If Ministers are advocating a phase 4 pay policy, and if the Chancellor is actually suggesting it, unless the Prime Minister repudiates it the House has no alternative but to presume that this is now the pay policy of this Government.

The right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) is doing very well in his capacity as a substitute. I am afraid that I simply will not be pinned down by the right hon. Member or by anybody else on what future pay settlements will be in the autumn of 1978. I have enough to do to get through the autumn of 1977 first. However, in relation to next year, I can say that if we have moderate settlements to look forward to—and we already have some in a number of areas—we can be certain that the retail price index will be so much lower next year that there will not be the same incentive to claim exceptional wage increases. There is no reason for the right hon. Gentleman to conclude that any decisions will be taken yet, or that there are likely to be any about the future of pay policy in the winter of 1978. I say that so that I can spare the hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Pardoe) his supplementary before he asks it.