HC Deb 01 December 1977 vol 940 cc714-7
Q3. Mr. Wyn Roberts

asked the Prime Minister if he will list his engagements for 1st December.

The Prime Minister

This morning I presided at a meeting of the Cabinet. I also met Governer Brown of California. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall be holding further meetings with ministerial colleagues and others.

Mr. Roberts

Will the Prime Minister have another go at clearing up the very messy situation left after the Chancellor talked with the Manifesto Group last night? If the Prime Minister does not like free collective bargaining, as he has told us today, will he continue with what Mr. Gormley calls "the most involuntary voluntary policy"?

The Prime Minister

The guidelines were published in the White Paper last July, and that is what we are adhering to. I shall not condemn anyone in this House—not the Chancellor nor the Under-Secretary for Employment, not even the hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit)—[Interruption.] Perhaps I shall exempt him, after all—for trying to think ahead about the way in which we can get a rational approach to wages in this country without having excessive settlements that are likely to lead to inflation.

Mr. Pardoe

The Prime Minister may rest assured that I was not going to ask him about phase 4, because I am much more concerned about phase 3. Will he accept that if the present rate of wage settlements in the private sector continues as for the remaining part of phase 3 up to July 1977, the rate of price increases will rise very rapidly in the second half of 1978? What is he doing to enforce the guidelines in the private sector?

The Prime Minister

I do not think that we can draw that conclusion. I believe that only 3 per cent. of wage earners in this country have made settlements. Many are waiting to see what happens. I was told yesterday and the House will have read about what I million local authority wage earners were saying about a current dispute. A great many people are waiting. It is not right to suggest that there will be a great excess. Nobody can say that, when such a small proportion have settled. It is the Government's responsibility, within budgetary limits and in other ways, to try to prevent people in the private sector from saying that they did it because the Government did it.

Mr. Madden

Will the Prime Minister take the opportunity of having a word with the German Minister of Labour who is visiting London this week and others like him, such as the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph), who are implacably opposed to the temporary employment subsidy? The Prime Minister should tell them that Britain intends to continue with the TES because of its importance to the textile and clothing industry.

The Prime Minister

There is no doubt that in the middle of a world recession it would be absolutely idiotic to follow the suggestions of the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph) who says that all rescues and subsidies are harmful. I have never heard a more stupid expression in the 33 years that I have been in this House.

Mr. Michael Latham

In view of the motion on the Order Paper by the hon. Member for Ormskirk (Mr. Kilroy-Silk) and other Labour Members about the Government's sanctions policy, and their attack upon it, will the Prime Minister seek from the House a legal basis for his 10 per cent. pay policy and for his sanctions, neither of which have such a legal basis?

The Prime Minister

The answer in both cases is "No".

Mr. Ashley

Why do the Government not suggest an institution such as the National Board for Prices and Incomes to operate alongside their voluntary pay policy?

The Prime Minister

I think that the experience of the Prices and Incomes Board in the past shows all too clearly that this kind of institution cannot operate without the full consent and support of those who intend to control or take part in it. That is why I have always insisted that whatever the difficulties in a democratic society like ours, we shall not succeed without the support of the trade unions in these matters. That is why my efforts at the moment have been bent on winning public and trade union opinion to our side. What is more, we are holding it remarkably well.

Mr. Peter Walker

Originally the Government's guideline were 6 per cent. on wage rates and 10 per cent. on earnings. Are they now 10 per cent. on wage rates and 15 per cent. on earnings?

The Prime Minister

No, Sir. The Government's original guidelines were 10 per cent. on national earnings, and settlements well within single figures. We would like to retain that situation.