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Tuc And Cbi

Volume 957: debated on Thursday 9 November 1978

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Q1.

I meet representatives of the TUC and CBI from time to time, at NEDC and on other occasions. Further meetings will be arranged as necessary.

Will my right hon. Friend discuss with the TUC and the CBI the severe misgivings which they have both expressed about the European monetary system—misgivings which must surely have been intensified by today's increase in the minimum lending rate, which is surely a foretaste of the sort of policies that would be necessary if we were to join an EMS or, indeed, pursue policies parallel to it?

We discussed with the TUC on 30th October the proposals for a European monetary system. It was a useful and valuable discussion. The TUC set out the kind of conditions that it thought would need to be observed if we were to join, and we shall continue to bear those and other representations in mind, including the evidence that the Expenditure Sub-Committee is now taking.

Does the Prime Minister recall that the last time the minimum lending rate went up, in June, to 10 per cent., the Chancellor of the Exchequer told the House that he expected it to come down within—at most—a few weeks? What went wrong this time?

Yes, it certainly was our expectation at that time that MLR would come down within a matter of weeks, and I regret very much that world conditions have prevented it from doing so. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] It may have escaped the notice of Conservative hon. Members that there has been a certain turbulence in the position of the dollar, and a general rise in short-term interest rates. The increase in the MLR reflects that but goes a little further, because we are determined to keep inflation under control. I hope that we have the right hon. Lady's support in that.

As the American rate went up 1 per cent. to 9½ per cent., the Prime Minister can hardly claim that the cause of the increase to 12½ per cent. is what has happened to the dollar. Why does he not accept cause and effect—namely, that the reason that MLR has gone up to 12½ per cent. is that he is borrowing far too much and trying to take far too much out of the economy for Government spending, and that those who will bear the increase to 12½ per cent. are the home owners and the small businesses—the very businesses that are trying to expand and make more jobs, which he also wants?

I partly agree with the right hon. Lady—that it is our borrowing requirement that determines to some extent the level of interest rates. But the corollary of that, as the right hon. Lady has always said, is that we should cut down public expenditure—items such as education and the social services. As is well known, old age pensions and child benefit are going up next week. Perhaps the right hon. Lady would care to choose which of those she would like to reduce.

Given that the pound is rather too strong to suit our international trade convenience and that it is difficult to understand why a rise of 2½ per cent. in the MLR will assist in stabilising the turbulence of which my right hon. Friend speaks, will he tell us whether this change has anything to do with conformity to a possible European monetary system, or whether it is in order to enforce, by indirect means, the 5 per cent. wage policy?

The change does not enforce a 5 per cent. wage policy, because we are in a period of free collective bargaining. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] If we were not, I promise that some of the settlements would be a lot different from what they look likely to be. We cannot enforce anything there.

But I am sure that my hon. Friend will have studied what I have said consistently on many occasions. We have three legs to this tripod. We intend to use them all to keep inflation down. The country will have to make up its mind whether it prefers these short-term mea- sures, as I trust they will be short-term, in order to keep inflation down to prevent unemployment from soaring, or whether it is ready to let inflation rip. The Government are not ready to do that. I have said more than once, and say again, that we shall take all the necessary measures.

The Prime Minister told the House last week about the three-legged stool. He told us that if the leg of pay policy were weakened the other two legs would have to be strengthened. But surely his principle of carpentry is wrong. If that one leg is weak it is that one that should be strengthened. Otherwise, the stool will collapse. Therefore, in talking to the CBI and the TUC will the Prime Minister discuss with them, particularly in the context of the Ford pay claim, the fact that the Ford company in America has a very sophisticated profit-sharing scheme, whereas in Britain there is no way in which the Ford employees can share in the increased profitability of the company in the past year?

I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman. I dare say that in logic he is right but, alas, logic does not always cover all political decisions. Let me add that when it is strictly applied one always comes a cropper.

I am still waiting to hear from Ford. I cannot really believe it when its spokesman says that it does not know what effect the impact of the proposed wage settlement would have on the price of its cars. It seems to me very unlikely that a company of that size should take decisions about pay without knowing in advance how they will feed through to its prices.