Oral Answers To Questions
Before we begin Questions I should like once again to tell the House that the character of our Question Time is being spoiled and changed by interminably long supplementary questions and sometimes, long ministerial answers. This practice is thoroughly selfish and unfair to other hon. Members who have Questions on the Order Paper. If arguments are advanced instead of questions being asked, I propose to intervene.
asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he will make a statement on the latest progress in the formulation of the press charter.
I have been engaged in an extensive series of consultations with organisations and individuals in the industry on the content of the proposed press charter. The outcome of these consultations is under consideration by the Government.
Will the Minister say when the consultations are likely to be completed, bearing in mind the current industrial unrest in the newspaper industry? Has he completed his consultations with the TUC and the Press Council?
No, I have not yet met the TUC, the CBI or the Press Council. The hon. Gentleman will know that I am bound by statute to consult the Press Council. I can give no idea when the consultations will be completed, but I hope that we shall be able to achieve the maximum consensus before my right hon. Friend presents his charter to the House.
My hon. Friend will appreciate that the most immediate matter of concern to many in the newspaper industry is the threatened closure as from midnight on Thursday of Times Newspapers Ltd. Does the Minister think that it would be appropriate to approach the management of Times Newspapers Ltd., to see whether the suspension can be lifted to enable proper and reasonable negotiations to proceed on matters of fundamental importance?
My right hon. Friend has met representatives of the employers and the major unions involved in this unhappy situation. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade replied to a similar Question from my hon. Friend yesterday. I have nothing to add to that reply.
On the subject of the press charter generally, will the Minister assure the House that if such a charter ever appears it will not contain any closed shop provision permitting a single union to determine what appears in the press and who writes it?
I am glad that the hon. and learned Gentleman has assumed Front Bench responsibility for this topic and I was glad to read the reports of his speech to the Newspaper Society yesterday. It showed a significant and welcome shift from the views of the right hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior), because the hon. and learned Gentleman obviously now recognises that closed shops exist in the industry and should do so, subject to safeguards. We have a great deal of common ground in that respect.
Civil And Public Services Association
asked the Secretary of State for Employment whether the Civil and Public Services Association is registered as an independent trade union.
In view of the disturbing revelations about elections in the CPSA, what steps do the Government intend to take to ensure that the public are reassured about the correctness of election procedures? Would it not help if the Government were to assist with free postal ballots and matters of that kind, in order to reassure the public that future union elections will be straight?
On the subject of assistance with ballots, if the trade unions made a general request for such help the Government would give it every consideration. Until that happens, we do not think it right to seek to impose ballots on the trade union movement. We think that in that respect lessons should have been learnt from the past. I am sure that the CPSA will give the hon. Gentleman's views the attention that they deserve.
Is my hon. Friend aware that the matters to which the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) referred were the result of a regrettable mix-up in the operation of new rules adopted by the union, that new elections are being called, that manifestos have gone out to all members and that a proper ballot will take place shortly?
It is not for the Government to comment on the internal affairs of trade unions. However, what has taken place shows that individual members have the ability to challenge their unions if they feel that the rules have been broken. As I understand it, that is what has happened.
May I press the hon. Gentleman a little further about secret ballots? Will the Government give as much attention to trying to persuade trade unions, both at shop floor level and at national level, to adopt secret ballots as they are apparently prepared to give to applying sanctions to a company such as Ford?
I think the right hon. Gentleman knows that those two matters are in no way comparable. It is not for us to persuade the unions to take that course. I have said that there is no question but that the Government would respond to a request for help. However, persuasion can be counter-productive. Secondly, the right hon. Gentleman, above all others, should have learnt some lessons from the past.
asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he will give the percentage fall that would be needed to produce a return in the total numbers of registered unemployed persons in the United Kingdom to the levels prevailing at the end of 1972, 1974 and 1976.
At November 1978 the unemployment rate stood at 5·8 per cent. The proportion of the current work force which would need to be unemployed in order to return to the levels of unemployment prevailing in the United Kingdom at November 1972, November 1974 and December 1976 are 3·4 per cent., 2·7 per cent. and 5·7 per cent. respectively.
May I half thank the Minister for the rather strange selection in his statistical answer? How does the hon. Gentleman react to the ominous prediction by the Manpower Services Commission in its official report that to reduce unemployment to 600,000— that was the level in March 1974—by 1982 it will be necessary to create 1·7 million extra jobs? How would the Government, with their lamentable record, propose to deal with a problem as monumental as that?
The Government intend to do that by continuing rigorously to fight inflation and by pursuing their industrial strategy.
Is my hon. Friend aware that the unemployment figures will rise by more than 5,000 on Friday if the closure of Times Newspapers Ltd. goes ahead? Is he further aware that the answer given by the Minister of State, Department of Employment was not satisfactory and that there is great pressure for the Government to intervene?
That is a matter that would lead to ACAS and other bodies becoming involved in an extremely difficult situation.
asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he has had any recent discussions with leaders of the construction industry, trade unions and local authorities concerning unemployment in the construction industry.
My right hon. Friend had a meeting recently with some of the leaders of the construction industry to discuss manpower matters. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, who is responsible for sponsorship of the construction industry, has regular contacts with all sides of the industry about employment in construction.
Will my hon. Friend urge upon his right hon. Friends the need to restore the level of public expenditure, bearing in mind, for example, that so many of our schools, homes and hospitals, especially in Wales, are nothing more than nineteenth century monstrosities? Measures to increase public expenditure would also help reduce the high level of unemployment that has prevailed for so long.
I understand and share my hon. Friend's concern about unemployment in the construction industry. However, large extra amounts of public money have been poured into the construction industry, or into construction programmes over the past two years. Last year the Government added more than £ 800 million to public sector construction programmes, that money to be spent over the next three years. That expenditure is intended to help stabilise the industry.
Should not the council house building programme be greatly accelerated to employ some thousands of the scores of thousands of unemployed construction workers? Is the hon. Gentleman aware that even in Wales about 16,000 construction workers are still unemployed?
The level of council house building is primarily a matter for my right hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Construction and the local authorities. I understand that many Conservative-controlled local authorities have deliberately cut back on much needed council house building.
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is totally indefensible that there should be thousands of unemployed construction workers on Merseyside and at the same time a great and pressing need in that area for more housing, schools and hospitals? Will he attempt to take some measures to match those two factors?
I understand that the Department of the Environment and other Government Departments have identified Merseyside as an area that requires special attention. Merseyside has been the subject of extra expenditure on construction both currently and in recent years.
Does not the Minister regret that, with so many unemployed construction workers, the number of houses being improved is only a third of the 1973 figure?
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will bear in mind what I said earlier about the attitude of some Conservative-controlled local authorities.
asked the Secretary of State for Employment what further measures he has in mind for reducing unemployment; and if he will make a statement.
asked the Secretary of State for Employment what further steps he will take to reduce unemployment.
I have already announced an extension of the small firms employment subsidy from 1st January 1979 and it is the intention of the Government to introduce a short time working compensation scheme. The need for further measures will be kept under review.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that every time he initiates a new temporary job scheme big business, aided and abetted by some of his Cabinet colleagues, introduces permanent sackings, for example, KME? We have seen the movement in the minimum lending rate, and we now have the dispute at Times Newspapers Ltd. Is my right hon. Friend aware that the millionaire owners of Times Newspapers Ltd. are in the throes of putting 4,000 more people on the stones? Why does not he tell them to lift the deadline and start renegotiations?
I am only too deeply aware of the many redundancies that are introduced by employers, for a whole range of reasons. Some of the measures that we have introduced, including the temporary employment subsidy, give us a basis for discussion with employers and enable us to fend off and avoid a certain number of redundancies. By means of the Employment Protection Act we have given unions a status and a right to consultation. I agree that what we are doing by introducing special measures is largely offset on many occasions by massive redundancies.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree with the Government Actuary's assessment that in the next financial year the average number of jobless will be greater than the number of jobless in the present financial year?
The figures to which the hon. Gentleman refers are not estimates by the Government Actuary but are figures that were used and produced in a report that was laid before the House last week, along with the national insurance order. They are working assumptions. That was made clear. The Government Actuary draws his figures, for the purpose of working assumptions, from the Treasury. The report said that for the purpose of illustration certain levels of unemployment had been used as working assumptions. The report quoted figures which it said were being used for that purpose in the financial years 1978–79 and 1979–80. I do not regard them as forecasts of unemployment for those years.
Has my right hon. Friend's Department further considered the question of early retirement? Is he able to say how successful the job release scheme has been and whether the new terms of the scheme have brought a significant number of persons into the scheme and thus increased job opportunities for the community?
It is too early to make any accurate estimate of the effect of the changed terms of the scheme. On 7th November about 17,000 people were benefiting from the job release scheme. I hope to see that number expanded greatly in the forthcoming months.
What new thinking has the right hon. Gentleman had for pockets of unemployment in areas which have no assisted or development status, such as East Devon where there is a level of unemployment of 10 per cent.? Job creation in these small pockets throughout the country is terribly important, but that matter seems to be getting next to no thought from the right hon. Gentleman's Department.
A lot of consideration has been given to a number of pockets of unemployment which are outwith assisted areas and inner city partnerships. That is why a number of schemes run by my Department are now placed on a nationwide footing; for example, the small business employment subsidy and the job release scheme.
When considering measures to reduce unemployment, will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that more than 63 per cent. of employers are failing to employ their 3 per cent. quota of registered disabled workers? Is my right hon. Friend aware that, with two exceptions, every major Government Department is failing to employ its 3 per cent. quota? Is it not time that sanctions were imposed on Government Departments and on private employers?
I have recently been engaged in discussions with the Civil Service Department and the Manpower Services Commission about methods by which the Government might improve their performance in the employment of disabled persons. Taking the wider, national scene, we are still trying to bring about a considerable improvement in the employment of registered disabled people through the job induction scheme and special grants for adaptation of employers' premises.
Can the right hon. Gentleman give an estimate of the number of additional jobs that are being lost each month as a result of the increase in the minimum lending rate by 2f per cent.? Is he aware that the unemployment figures are still extremely serious? What is the difference between a working assumption and an estimate, about which he has been talking this afternoon?
I cannot give an estimate of the effect upon employment of the change in minimum lending rate. The change was addressed broadly to the problem of containing and reducing the inflation rate. I trust that the right hon. Gentleman would agree reducing the inflation rate can only be beneficial to employment prospects.
asked the Secretary of State for Employment what are the latest figures for registered unemployed; and how the figure compares with February 1974.
At 9th November, the number registered as unemployed in Great Britain, seasonally adjusted and excluding school leavers, was 1,281,500. This was 731,700 higher than in February 1974.
Will the Secretary of State now try to answer the previous question? How many more people will now never get back to work with Labour as a direct consequence of the Government pushing up the lending rate to record penal levels to try to finance their extragavant overspending?
The largest part of the increase in unemployment, to which I referred in my original answer, can be accounted for by the increase which has taken place since 1974 in the working population. There are now more people in employment in this country than there were under a Conservative Government in 1972 and 1973. As to the effect of Government expenditure, in many cases it has been to sustain and increase employment.
Will my right hon. Friend explain in very simple language to the Opposition that the United States Government and most of the Governments in the Common Market are not Labour Governments? They are not Socialist in any way, yet their unemployment levels are as high as they are in this country. Will he further point out to the Opposition that the real problem is the nature of the capitalist system under which we live and that, despite that fact, the Government have put more people to work than did the Tories? Would he also accept that there are areas—
Order. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman was present earlier when I told the House that if hon. Members were advancing an argument during Question Time I would intervene. We must try to get back to the normal character of Question Time. The hon. Gentleman will now ask a question.
I am trying to do so, if the Opposition will stop interrupting me. Is it not true that there are areas of high unemployment, such as Merseyside, which require special support and protection?
It is certainly the case that there are areas with special unemployment problems requiring special protection. I am rather reluctant to make comparisons between sets of international statistics since different countries compile their figures in different ways. What we can do is to compare the changing rates of unemployment in different countries. There are few countries, with the possible exception of the United States and West Germany, which have had a falling unemployment rate such as ours over the past 12 months.
the Secretary of State for Employment how many people were in employment at the latest date for which figures are available and on the same date five years earlier.
At June 1978, the provisional number of employees in employment in Great Britain was 22,213,000, compared with 22,182,000 in June 1973.
Is it not now reasonable to assume that we shall very soon see more people in employment than ever before in the country's history?
If the country continues to support the Government's anti-inflation policy, and if British industry continues to improve its competitiveness, this will occur.
Is the Minister aware that there are 14 employment exchange areas in the United Kingdom which have unemployment rates in excess of 13 per cent. and that six of the 14 are in Wales? In these circumstances, will the hon. Gentleman set in motion a comprehensive review of the effectiveness of regional policy?
Since decentralisation, my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Wales has accepted responsibility for these matters. I shall draw his attention to the remarks of the hon. Gentleman.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the two factors which affect the level of employment more than anything else are the advance of technology and the vast increase in the available labour force? Is it not time that there was purposeful discussion with the trade union movement with a view to reducing the length of the working week?
The discussions with the trade unions have to take place, first, on the development of technology and the need to protect and increase jobs and, second, on how the wealth created by that technology can be used in the public service sector to provide services and employment, both of which are badly needed.
The Minister will recall that we were promised 100,000 current placings under the youth opportunities programme. Can he tell us how many people were on the programme at the latest date?
I can say that at present the Manpower Services Commission says that it is on target. There is a great need for employers, voluntary bodies and trade unions to offer places to the youngsters most disadvantaged.
Tuc Staff (Pay)
asked the Secretary of State for Employment what reply he has received from the TUC in response to his inquiries about that body's pay agreement with its staff, which appears to breach the Government's pay guidelines.
As I informed the hon. Member in my reply on 20th November, the main features of the TUC's settlement with its staff were reported to me by the TUC and I am awaiting a reply to my subsequent request for additional information.
Since it was possible to take sanctions against the Ford company within a week of its pay settlement, why is it that, 11 weeks after the TUC deal was published in The Observer, the Secretary of State still does not know the details and still has not told the TUC that he will operate sanctions against it unless it comes into line?
The issue of any discretionary action is not related to the obtaining of details in this instance. If the Government decided to do so, they would still have no appropriate discretionary action to take in the case of the TUC.
Can the right hon. Gentleman tell the House what additional information he has asked the TUC to supply and what difference it will make to the Government?
I do not think that any additional information will make any particular difference. The TUC has provided the Government with information about all the main features of the settlement. There is some further detailed information, but it is not on that basis that the Government have had to make any decision whether to take action.
Is not the Secretary of State thoroughly ashamed of that abysmal reply? Why is he dragging his feet on this matter? What are the criteria animating the Government in regard to sanctions? Is one of the criteria the fact that trade unions are exempt when demanding high wage increases or when they are granting them to their own employees?
The principal consideration in this case, as in so many others, is whether discretionary actions are available to the Government. In this case discretionary actions are not available.
Will my right hon. Friend go back to his colleagues at the next Cabinet meeting or before and tell them that the policy with which they have landed him on sanctions and so on is becoming increasingly difficult to answer logically in the House of Commons? Will he tell them that he is at the sharp end of this matter, and that the sooner they get rid of it the better it will be for everybody?
I would be the last to deny to my hon. Friend that there are difficulties in operating the pay policy. But I find no difficulty whatsoever in answering the Opposition's questions on this matter.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the patently unsatisfactory nature of the Minister's reply, I beg to give notice of my intention to seek an early opportunity to raise the matter on the Adjournment.
Employment Protection Act
asked the Secretary of State for Employment whether he proposes to amend the Employment Protection Act.
I have no present intention of bringing forward amendments to the Employment Protection Act. However, the proposals for compensating short-time working will replace the guarantee pay provisions of the Act.
Will the Minister accept his Department's findings that the unfair dismissal provisions are proving a deterrent to small employers? Will he further accept that a recent judgment, which awarded £7,000 to a man dismissed for sleeping on the job, will reinforce their fears of what the Secretary of State has referred to as the industrial tribunal fruit machine? Will the Minister look again at the law on unfair dismissal, particularly in the light of two recent decisions, Seeley v. Avon Aluminium Company and Stock v. Frank Jones?
Before the hon. Gentleman—or the House—decides to criticise the findings of a judicial body, namely, the industrial tribunal, in a way that he would never dream of doing in respect of any other judicial body, he ought to look at the facts of the case to find out exactly why the tribunal to which he referred found as it did.As to the wider question of the satisfactoriness or otherwise of the unfair dismissal provisions—and I am bound to say that it was the Conservatives who introduced these in their Industrial Relations Act 1971—we have commissioned research and found that, notwithstanding the criticisms which have been made, the provisions are, in general, working satisfactorily.
When my hon. Friend comes to consider the unfair dismissal rules, will he bear in mind that 69 per cent. of all claims for unfair dismissal brought before industrial tribunals fail, and that, far from employers' rights needing protection, there is a far greater need to protect the rights of unfairly dismissed employees?
My hon. and learned Friend is right. We recently had a full debate in the House on these matters, and I am bound to say that I thought the Government won the argument hands down.
asked the Secretary of State for Employment how many jobs were lost in the Merseyside travel-to-work area in 1976, 1977 and to date in November 1978.
Information in the form requested is not available. However, I am informed by the Manpower Services Commission that 7,749 redundancies in the Merseyside special development area were notified to the employment service division as due to occur in 1976 and 11,444 in 1977. To date, 13,112 redundancies have been notified as due to occur during the period January to the end of November 1978.
Does my hon. Friend agree that those figures represent a clear indication that Government policy on unemployment is not working on Merseyside? In spite of the fact that Merseyside is a special development area and lately has probably had more cash from the Government than at any other time, it is not keeping up with the pace at which we are losing jobs there, particularly in the private sector. When will the Government look at the question of unemployment and start to design policies—such as the extension of public ownership—to meet that situation?
The Government are well aware of the grave problem of unemployment on Merseyside and will do everything possible to increase the confidence of industrialists in Merseyside and boost morale in the area.
Does my hon. Friend realise that he has an opportunity to do everything possible to help? Given that we have lost so many jobs on Merseyside, will he now give an assurance that the headquarters and the laboratory of the new National Enterprise Board-sponsored micro-chip industry will be located on Merseyside and not, as presently planned by the NEB, in an area of very low unemployment?
That is a decision to be made, but certainly the Government by, for example, directing the Health and Safety Executive headquarters to Bootle have shown their concern to direct jobs to Merseyside.
asked the Secretary of State for Employment when he expects, following his consultations with the Confederation of British Industry, the Trades Union Congress and the Commission for Racial Equality, to begin monitoring the policies and practices designed to eliminate racial discrimination in employment by Government contractors.
The CBI, TUC and CRE have now been informed of the proposals referred to in the reply which I gave to my hon. Friend on 10th November and have been invited to discuss them. The aim will be to introduce new monitoring arrangements as soon as possible after these consultations have been completed.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that answer, but will he impress strongly on the CBI that all these private firms have an inescapable duty to avoid racial discrimination in their employment policies? Does he agree that the Government might have a better chance of success in this area if we put our own house in order in terms of having effective equal opportunity policies in the public sector?
I very much hope that the CBI and the other interested parties which are being consulted will see this as a worthwhile and progressive step forward. Within the public sector a great deal is going on. We pursue the policy of equal opportunity in the public sector, and all the nationalised industries and other public sector bodies have been asked to review their policies. We shall be looking at the results of that exercise to see what further action might be necessary.
Will the hon. Gentleman bear in mind that the biggest discrimination applied in industry nowadays is over promotion, and that all too often unions and management together are equally culpable?
I accept what the hon. Gentleman has said. It is one of the matters that we have been looking at within the race relations employment advisory group, which I recently set up.
Will my hon. Friend undertake to make sure that whatever information can be made available in this regard will be provided to chambers of commerce and chambers of trade, and particularly to those working within the inner city partnership area committees?
We want to make as much information available about this as possible. The services of the Department of Employment's race relations employment advisory group are always available to any of these bodies if they want to consult it.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the Conservative Opposition regard this as a very important matter and that we would like to do anything that we can to help the Government to make more information available, from Government Departments in particular, not only in regard to jobs taken, but jobs on offer and to whom those jobs go?
I am most grateful for the right hon. Gentleman's remarks.
asked the Secretary of State for Employment how many textile workers are currently unemployed in the North-West region and in the United Kingdom as a whole.
At 10th August, the latest date for which this quarterly information is available, the numbers of people registered as unemployed who last worked in the textile industry were 7,734 in the North-West region and 30,187 in the United Kingdom.
I thank the Under-Secretary for that reply, but is he aware that in the year ending 30th September 1978, 13,400 textile workers have been made redundant? Is he further aware that output per head in this industry compares very favourably with that in all other industries, particularly the vehicle industry, in this country? Will he pay more attention to the importance of the textile industry and also bear in mind the problems which could result to it from enlargement of the EEC?
The hon. Gentleman has often attacked me for advocating public expenditure. Through the new multi-fibre arrangement the Government have paid a great deal of attention to this industry. We have saved 43,700 textile jobs through the temporary employment subsidy, which has been attacked by members of the Conservative Front Bench, and we have introduced a special short-time working scheme, which again did not receive the acclaim that it should have done from Opposition Members.
Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the difficulties for the textile industry is that the EEC Commission reduced the amount which this country could pay in temporary employment subsidy, and that an EEC Commissioner, Christopher Tugendhat, a former Conservative MP, is going around the country outlining plans for further reductions? Does not that indicate the severe difficulties of our current membership of the EEC?
Certainly no one on the Labour Benches welcomed the reduction in the effectiveness of the temporary employment subsidy which we had to negotiate earlier this year.
asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he will invite the Manpower Services Commission to make a special study of the probable impact of micro-electronics on the industrial labour market and in particular its significance for the training opportunities scheme.
A group has been established within my Department's unit for manpower studies to examine the manpower implications of micro-electronics over the next 5 to 10 years. It will work closely with the Manpower Services Commission in planning the training and retraining requirements associated with this new technology. The training opportunities scheme is contributing substantially to the overall training effort on micro-electronics, and possible areas of expansion are being urgently considered.
Does my hon. Friend agree that there has been a lot of fantastic romancing about the impact on industrial manpower of micro-processors'? Does he agree also that this could have a serious impact on industrial manpower, with regard to both training and employment? I welcome his statement about the working party. Can he say anything about its composition?
It is headed by a team of three, including an economist. I do not think that I can say much more than that offhand. But if it will help my hon. Friend, I shall write to him. [Laughter.] I am not quite sure why the Conservative Opposition find that so funny. Let me add that, whatever fantasising has been done, it will be the task of this group to find out to what extent any kind of reliable and accurate assessment of this new technology has been made. I should tell my hon. Friend and the House that the Prime Minister will be making an oral statement, and tabling a written one, at the National Economic Development Council meeting on 6th December, which will include some of our preliminary conclusions about the possible manpower effects of this new technology.
Has the hon. Gentleman's Department formed any view about the likely level of job loss which could arise out of the introduction of microelectronic processors?
It would not make any sense if I tried to anticipate in any way the findings of the group, or in any way to anticipate what my right hon. Friend will say to the National Economic Development Council on 6th December.
Job Release Scheme
asked the Secretary of State for Employment whether the current job release scheme will be continued beyond its current term; and whether he has decided upon any modifications.
The job release scheme is now being reviewed along with the other special employment measures, and the question of its extension beyond 31st March 1979 is being considered. A decision on its future will be announced as soon as possible.
Is my hon. Friend aware that the Question really relates to the job creation scheme? Will he look at the question of capital investment and the involvement of young people in particular in social work and work within their own communities?
We shall certainly look carefully at the job release scheme and at all the provisions that we are making at the present time for youngsters under the youth opportunities programme. So far, 75,386 places have been provided under the youth opportunities programme. In addition, places have been provided in apprentice training, and places are still being provided under the job creation programme.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that we hope that the England team in Australia will have more success in keeping the ball out of its stumps than the employment team has had at Question Time this afternoon?
Prohibition And Improvement Notices(Crown Immunity)
asked the Secretary of State for Employment whether he will introduce legislation to enable prohibition and improvement notices to be served upon the Crown.
I have nothing further to add to the reply given to my hon. and learned Friend's earlier Question on 24th October.
Does not my hon. Friend consider that the Crown should be just as punctilious in its safety practices, and just as liable to enforcement and prohibition arrangements, as any other employer in the land?
I accept the first part of my hon. and learned Friend's supplementary question. The whole matter of Crown immunity raises important questions of principle, and these are under consideration by Ministers in consultation with the Health and Safety Commission.
asked the Prime Minister when he plans next to meet the TUC.
I meet representatives of the general council from time to time, at National Economic Development Council meetings and on other occasions. Further meetings will be arranged as necessary.
I am grateful to the Prime Minister for that reply. When he next meets the TUC, will he pursue with it the argument that any form of incomes policy is possible only if we have economic growth and that economic growth is totally incompatible with the European monetary system? Does he agree that it becomes him, above all, as a Prime Minister who has taken so many clear-cut decisions on so many difficult issues, to do the same with this difficult issue, to forsake the straddling position of the EMS and to say that it is in our national interest to stay out?
That was a slightly complicated question. But I agree with the early part of my hon. Friend's remarks, namely, that growth and an increase in incomes are interrelated. It is not without significance that this year, because of the restraint in the growth of incomes, industrial production compared with the corresponding quarter of last year is going ahead at about 4 per cent., which is the best for many years.As to the second part of the question, this depends upon the nature of the scheme about which my hon. Friend is talking. It is a scheme which needs to be symmetrical and which will have to wrap up both strong and weak currencies if it is to encourage growth. I do not know whether the arrangements which have been published so far achieve that end.
Does not the Prime Minister recognise the blatant injustice of imposing sanctions on Ford, when that company has already suffered the worst strike in its history because it has tried to support the Prime Minister's rigid 5 per cent. pay policy? Is he not aware that the Ford company has one of the best records in Britain for providing jobs, investment and exports and that his decision can only damage all three?.
When the right hon. Lady asked me a similar question last week I said that I recognised the dilemma for Ford. But there is an overriding national interest here. We are not ready to see the big fish get away while we catch only the tiddlers. As to the TUC, I do not propose to buy any motor cars from it.
Is it not in the overriding interest of this country to have companies which provide jobs, exports at competitive prices and investment? Does the Prime Minister recall that about a year ago he was very anxious to persuade Ford to go to South Wales and set up a new plant there? He said that Ford had demonstrated its confidence in Britain and that he must do all that he could to repay that confidence.
That is why we are pursuing our present policy. I promise the right hon. Lady that if every other firm pays an increase of between 16 per cent. and 17 per cent. to its employees—
Out of profits.
—Ford will not be able to hold its prices for very long and we shall find the price of Ford cars going up substantially whether or not Ford wants them to.
Will my right hon. Friend ignore the hysterical shriekings of the Leader of the Opposition? When he next meets the TUC, will he ask it to think again about pay policy? Will he ask it whether it really believes that increases on the scale given by Ford, and other increases in the pipeline, are good for Britain, for the unemployed and for people who suffered from the steep rise in the inflation rate between 1974 and 1977?
The answer to the first part of my hon. Friend's question is"Yes ". On the latter part, I totally agree. That is why we will pursue this policy, and pursue it as long as we have public support, which at present is overwhelming. Public opinion does not want to see exceptions made just because a company is large or multinational. Everyone will be treated in the same way.
asked the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 28th November.
In addition to my duties in this House, I shall be holding further meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. This evening I shall be host at a dinner in honour of the Prime Minister of Luxembourg.
Will the Prime Minister take time today to explain why in February 1974 he went around the mining valleys entreating the miners to smash the then Government's pay policy, saying that 16 per cent. was not far too much and that pay restraint to contain inflation was, to use his words,"utter drivel "? Is he not ashamed of that statement today?
I have refreshed my memory. It is clearly one of the catchphrases of the Conservative Party. I made clear at the time that because of the increase in money supply under Lord Barber and the way in which price increases were taking place —[Interruption.]
It is all right, Mr. Speaker, I know that Conservative Members have to let off steam now and again. The fact is that price increases were taking place at double the rate of today. Therefore, it was not possible to expect miners or anybody else to hold down their wage claims. Today we are in a different situation. Wages went ahead last year at twice the rate of prices. We are now trying to get these into a proper relationship with each other.
Will my right hon. Friend take time to study the wages council award for workers in licensed hotels and restaurants? This gives increases which will raise the highest paid in that area to only £42·80 a week and the lowest paid to £33·20. That is well below the Government's minimum wage target. What action will my right hon. Friend take to ensure that employers on wages councils pay their workers at least the minimum wage set out in the White Paper?
This is not a matter to which I have directed my attention today. It is not the case that the Government have laid down a minimum wage. We have proposed a figure of which negotiators should take account when fixing their rates of pay. Whether this particular wages council has done so I am not aware, but I am sure that my right hon. Friend, who has just emerged from 45 minutes' questioning, could give my hon. Friend the answer.
If the Prime Minister has a moment to spare today will he read the document"Britain's New Deal in Europe"on which he and too many of my right hon. and hon. Friends campaigned in the referendum? The document refers, on page 9, to the fact that fixed exchange rates put jobs at risk. Will he bear that in mind when considering the European monetary system?
I should very much like to examine that statement. My own view, held for many years, is that fixed exchange rates are far better than variable exchange rates. The experience of the last few years has surely demonstrated that. Both have their disadvantages, but it depends upon the conditions on which the exchange rates are fixed as to whether they are successful.
In his duties today, will my right hon. Friend consider immediate plans for introducing grants for 16 to 19-year-olds staying on at school? Would not that help to reduce unemployment? Is not further education far better than the waste, hopelessness and humiliation of"signing on "?
A Bill will be introduced on education which will include references to this principle. However, I cannot undertake that we can meet all the priorities which everyone is thrusting at us at present. There is a fixed limit on public expenditure, to which the Government intend to hold. That is the way to keep sterling stable, preserve jobs and keep prices down.
If the Prime Minister is concerned about sanctions and seeing that justice is done to all, including Ford, will he take time off today to write to the TUC leaders asking them why their own increases are up to 20 per cent. this year and 60 per cent. over three years? Will he report back to the House what action he intends to take against them?
I understand that the same question was put to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment.
He did not answer it.
This seems to be a matter on which common sense should apply, but I do not see much sign of it on the Opposition Front Bench at present.
Chancellor Of The Exchequer
asked the Prime Minister if he will dismiss the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
Why does the Prime Minister punish innocent victims like Ford with penal sanctions, rather than punishing the guilty party, in this case, his own Chancellor of the Exchequer, who created inflation by overspending and overborrowing?
I do not think that Ford is either guilty or innocent in this matter. Nor is the company being punished. We intend not to purchase vehicles from it. Unless the Government are to be compelled to purchase vehicles from a particular company —and I must say that this would be a new rule—Ford is not being punished. Ford is only the example of the national dilemma about which people must make up their minds. Do they want prices kept down or not? The Opposition clearly do not. Therefore they are ready to support every inflationary wage increase that is advanced.
Instead of sacking my very good friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, will the Prime Minister organise a slight Government reshuffle? In the interests of official secrecy will he make the Chancellor of the Exchequer the PPS to the Secretary of State for Energy, and in the interests of open democracy will he make me the Chancellor of the Exchequer?
If my hon. Friend is not careful he might very well find himself in that position. But I must say that there has never been anybody who has borne this task for so long with so much physical and intellectual stamina as has my right hon. Friend the Chancellor, and the country owes him a debt of gratitude.
Will the Prime Minister recognise that one of the difficulties facing the Chancellor of the Exchequer is that the Government have decided that it is in the national interest to keep down inflation and that it is impossible to do that if pay increases rise about 5 or 10 per cent? On the other hand, however, the Labour Party and the TUC conferences have both voted against this policy. Therefore, from where does the Prime Minister get his support?
I am grateful to the hon. Member for the information that he has given me. The last time that I received support was on the vote on the Queen's Speech, which is the way in which Governments always derive support. It was a big majority then, despite the Opposition's attempt to try to remove the Government.
Will the Prime Minister and the Chancellor see the leaders of the TUC and the CBI and ask them to state clearly whether they recognise that the policy of the Leader of the Opposition is to have a wages explosion as a matter of political expediency? The right hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) only last week on LBC was encouraging the CBI not to co-operate with the Government. The joint policies of the Leader of the Opposition and the right hon. Gentleman spell grave disaster for Britain and the British people if the Conservatives ever come to power.
I am not sure whether the Leader of the Opposition wants a wages explosion—
Of course not.
The right hon. Lady interjects"Of course not"and I accept that. In that case, I do not understand how a policy of trying to work to an average can succeed in keeping inflation down.
Is the Prime Minister aware that any action against Ford is grossly offensive to the democratic process, because the company has taken no action against any statute law in the United Kingdom? What legal or moral basis does the right hon. Gentleman have for taking these proceedings against the company?
I do not want to argue morality at the Dispatch Box. It is not a moral question, but a question of how we manage to ensure that the jobs of the people of this country are safeguarded, that inflation does not get out of hand and that prices do not go up. On that basis, we have decided to take certain actions. I am certain that we are right and that, despite the dilemma, the public understand, why we are doing it. That is why they continue to support us.