asked the Prime Minister when next he will meet the Trades Union Congress and the Confederation of British Industry.
I met representatives of the TUC general council on 18th July and of the CBI on 19th July. Further meetings will be arranged as necessary.
Since we are coming towards the end of the Session, could my right hon. Friend give the House a brief resume of the Government's achievements, notably in dealing with inflation? It need be only a resume because of the limitations of Question Time. Could he give us also some idea of how he believes that we shall continue to make that progress and achieve much more when he makes a similar report 12 months hence?
I can report that over the past 12 months, as over the past four years, there has been progress in controlling inflation. As I said in reply to supplementary questions on the previous Question, it is lower now than it was when the Conservative Government were in office. As for a comparison with last year, it is down from last year's level of 17 per cent. and is now 7·4 per cent. So that shows progress. Undoubtedly a lot of it is due to the great restraint shown by the trade union movement and by all workers and others in this country during the last 12 months. This has resulted in greater stability for the pound; sterling today is higher than it was 12 months ago in terms both of its value against the dollar and against the effective rates of other countries. All these things have been achieved by the united efforts of the British people. I intend that they shall continue.
No doubt when the Prime Minister meets the CBI and the TUC he will talk about the vexed problem of unemployment. Will he point out to those bodies that under Labour almost 190 firms have gone either bankrupt or into liquidation for every working day of this Administration? Is not that a terrible indictment, and is it not enough to shake even the Prime Minister's complacency?
I find myself a little astonished. I thought that one of the consequences of a free market was that firms should be free to go bankrupt if they did not succeed. That is the whole ethos of Conservative policy. If we are now to be reproached for allowing firms to go bankrupt, presumably we shall need more Government subsidies and grants to keep them afloat. I have seen some strange twists in Conservative Party policy, but that is one of the strangest.
When my right hon. Friend meets the TUC and the CBI, will he raise with them the vital importance of reaching an understanding on the basis of a form of industrial democracy upon which the next government can legislate?
Yes, Sir. The White Paper issued by the Government is one of the important issues that will form the basis of legislation in the next Session. We intend to bring it forward, and work is proceeding on it now. The TUC is not wholly united behind it, and no more is the CBI, I am sorry to say. This is where the Government must choose. I believe that the path forward that we have chosen will not only introduce greater industrial democracy but will bring greater industrial peace to this country and ensure that the efforts of both sides are bent on getting the maximum amount of productivity, which is what the country needs.
Does the Prime Minister recognise that the TUC and the CBI are among many outside bodies which have a legitimate interest in ensuring that this House can scrutinise legislation and the work of government more effectively? Will he discuss with them and many others the proposals of the Committee of this House which has already reported —the report is being published now—to make the House a more effective democratic body?
I understand that the report of the Select Committee on Procedure came out one minute ago. I have not had the opportunity of reading it, but I am sure that it will make light holiday reading for all of us. Having considered it, we can consider what steps should be taken next Session to see what proposals should be put into effect.
I propose to call one more hon. Member from each side of the House. I hope that the Prime Minister will be patient, because we are going over time.
Is the Prime Minister aware that many trade unionists in Scotland will be surprised that he has not taken the opportunity today to announce the date of the referendum on the Scotland Bill and that he is dragging his feet on the issue? Is he further aware that if he believes that by spinning it out he can rely upon the support of my hon. Friends and myself to sustain him in office he is gravely mistaken?
I do not think that anyone, trade unionist or not, will be surprised, because I answered the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mrs. Bain) on Tuesday in the hon. Gentleman's absence on this matter. I said that we would bring forward proposals, I hoped, when we returned for the new Session in November. So there is no occasion for surprise. If I had to rely on the SNP for support, I would run tomorrow.
May I ask my right hon. Friend a practical question? Has he received the letter from Councillor Arnold Tweedale, of the North-West Industrial Development Association, about the future of the microelectronics processing plant? Are the Government sympathetic to having it in the north-west, in particular on Merseyside, which would give us at least 4,500 badly needed jobs?
My hon. Friend has been most assiduous in pursuing the prospects for greater prosperity in Merseyside. Everyone should be aware of this.As regards the microprocessing and microcircuitry industry, I am told by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry that many cities and towns have written asking for this new and exciting venture to be put into their areas. All these requests will have to be considered, so I cannot give a definite undertaking today.