Orders of the Day — Economic and Energy Situation

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 19th December 1973.

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Photo of Mr William Whitelaw Mr William Whitelaw , Penrith and The Border 12:00 am, 19th December 1973

I have already given way to one hon. Member representing the mining industry, and I shall not give way further.

If the present arrangements were to be further changed—because of the new energy situation and current shortages—to the miners' advantage, even more than under the current policies, let us be perfectly clear that other trade union leaders would have to underwrite that position. They would have to accept substantially less for their members. They would have to declare that they would accept leaving the miners as a special case compared with their own members, thereby making sure that the miners' relative position in the wage scale was effectively maintained. They would have to make it clear that in negotiations they would not seek to follow the miners' lead. We are all aware of the difficulties which would face any trade union leader in giving an assurance of that sort.

The Leader of the Opposition's first law of inflation was that one man's wage increase was another man's price increase. There is a second law, which applies all too frequently, that one man's wage increase is another man's wage claim.

I hope I have shown that Her Majesty's Government will continue to do everything in their power to solve these difficult industrial disputes within the confines of stage 3 of the counter-inflation policy, which is fair to the community as a whole. We in this House must never forget that we guard the interests of many people who have no organisation to speak for them. They, like all of us in all parts of our society, have a vested interest in defeating inflation.

That is what is at stake in the present crisis. In some quarters it has been suggested that the cost of settling the dispute on the terms demanded would be less than the cost of the emergency measures which we have been compelled to take. This is false arithmetic. The true balance is to be found in the cost to the country of an acceleration of inflationary wage demands across the board.

Those who advocate peace at any price, when faced with any difficulty, may buy a temporary respite from trouble, but they will have taken another step on the road to inflationary disaster and so to the undermining of our democratic society. Equally, those who thirst for confrontation and see the problems——