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Volume 940: debated on Thursday 1 December 1977

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Is my right hon. Friend aware that if he visited my constituency he would discover the resentment and bitterness expressed not only by firemen but by many of my constituents who support the legitimate demands of the firemen? Many of us on the Government side of the House feel that a settlement is not only possible but is now becoming an urgent necessity.

I would expect to find some bitterness. Indeed, I have detected it myself when I have been picketed or demonstrated against by firemen in many parts of the country. But I hope that my hon. Friend will tell his constituents that there will be equal bitterness and resentment or even greater bitterness and resentment, if, as a result of settlements which spread through the economy, we were to have much higher unemployment, much higher prices and a return to the inflation of two years ago.

It is for this reason that we are taking the stand that we are. As to a settlement, I agree with my hon. Friend that the concern of the firemen is genuine. There is no reason why a number of elements should not be put together in this dispute to form a settlement. There is the long-term formula that I have discussed with the firemen and the possibility of underwriting it. There is the prospect on hours. There is the guaranteed phasing in of a settlement, and there is the 10 per cent. that the firemen have been offered immediately. I see no reason at all why this should not be put together to form a constructive settlement on which the firemen should return to work.

If the Prime Minister cannot go to Garston will he go to Bootle and tell the firemen there that he disapproves entirely of their action in picketing the accommodation of the soldiers who are employed fighting fires in Liverpool and who are paid considerably less money than are the firmen?

The Fire Brigades Union national executive has indicated to all its members that it does not wish picketing to take place in the places where soldiers are.

As the hon. Gentleman does not seem to be up to date with the situation, I can tell him that the local Fire Brigades Union has withdrawn its pickets from that area. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will make the appropriate correction.

On the subject of inflation, how can my right hon. Friend persist in his arguments in view of the high level of unemployment throughout the Western world and also in Britain? How can he say that inflation is still fuelled by excessive demand? Would it not be better to have higher wage awards in order to increase demand and thereby reduce unemployment?

My hon. Friend is putting words into my mouth. I did not say that excessive demand was the cause of this at all. What I am saying, and what is not sufficiently appreciated, is that especially in manufacturing industry, on which we depend so much, the level of comparative wage settlements is of very great importance for competitive purposes. In the United States today settlements are taking place at 8 per cent., in Japan they are 8·8 per cent., in the Federal Republic 7 per cent., and in France 12·4 per cent. Therefore, 10 per cent. settlements in this country are by no means out of the way. We shall lose our competitive position and create greater unemployment unless this is fuly recognised. My hon. Friend would be doing a far greater service if she were to put this across to her constituents.

How can the Prime Minister expect to have the support of the country in pursuing his policies when he cannot even control his own Back Benchers?

With regard to my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Miss Maynard) I have always proceeded on the basis that the Lord loveth whom he chasteneth. On the whole, I think that she prefers me to the right hon. Gentleman.