asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer what reply he has received from the Trades Union Congress to his suggestion to them on 15th May that a committee of employers and workers should be appointed to consider the economic situation; what similar approaches he has made to the employers; and with what results.
My statement on our present economic problems was made to the National Joint Advisory Council. There was no approach to the two sides of industry separately. The employers' side have informed my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Labour and National Service that they would be prepared to participate in a joint committee of the Council. He has not yet heard from the other parties to the Council, but I am meeting the Economic Committee of the T.U.C. for further discussion next week.
Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind, in the meantime, that it is quite impossible to achieve wage stability unless we have stability in the cost of living, and also the original advice given him by the T.U.C. in connection with food subsidies and act accordingly?
The answer to the latter part of the question is, No, Sir. That does not mean that I have not respected the advice given to me by the Trades Union Congress nor that I do not look forward to further consultation with them. I sincerely hope that between us we may be able to take the right path.
Mr. Shin well:
Did not the right hon. Gentleman embarrass the trade union leaders considerably by reducing the food subsidies, thus making it very difficult for them to influence their members as regards wage restraint?
I do not think that trade union leaders are men who are easily embarrassed, and despite any feelings they may have had, they have, in their published statements, so far shown every sign of a desire for restraint and moderation within the limits which they have already set. I would make no further statement on their behalf because they are capable of speaking for themselves, and I would rather look forward to meeting them next week and learning what is in their minds.
Is not the right hon. Gentleman aware that in their published statement they have made it plain that they deplore the cuts in food subsidies which have made things much more difficult for them?
Things have not been made more difficult for them than for anybody else. I am satisfied that the financial policy pursued by the Government so far has had a remarkable effect on stopping the drain on our reserves. That is proved by the published figures.
I am certain that trade union leaders, however much they have expressed or may still express their disagreement, realise that there are certain advantages in the policy which has been pursued.
As the speed of the increase in the cost of living has been retarded, even taking into consideration the removal of the food subsidies, does my right hon. Friend not think that the pressure for increased wages should be accordingly less?
It is true that there are definite signs and tendencies in certain directions of the cost of living actually coming down, in regard to certain commodities at any rate, and this should have an effect of moderation and general restraint.