Oral Answers to Questions — Cbi and TUC (Meetings)

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 15th January 1974.

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Photo of Mr Harry Ewing Mr Harry Ewing , Stirling and Falkirk Burghs 12:00 am, 15th January 1974

asked the Prime Minister what plans he has for further meetings with the TUC and CBI.

Photo of Dennis Skinner Dennis Skinner , Bolsover

asked the Prime Minister what further meetings he has planned with the CBI and TUC.

Photo of Michael Meacher Michael Meacher , Oldham West

asked the Prime Minister when he next proposes to meet the TUC and CBI.

Photo of Gavin Strang Gavin Strang , Edinburgh East

asked the Prime Minister if he has any plans for further talks with representatives of the TUC and CBI.

Photo of Mr Edward Heath Mr Edward Heath , Bexley

I met representatives of the TUC on 10th January and again yesterday ; and representatives of the CBI on 11th January. At these meetings we discussed the industrial situation and the proposal which the TUC put forward at the NEDC meeting on 9th January. We agreed that the Government should continue to keep closely in touch with both the CBI and the TUC and further meetings will be arranged as necessary.

Photo of Mr Harry Ewing Mr Harry Ewing , Stirling and Falkirk Burghs

Will the Prime Minister say what purpose he considers those further meetings will have, since on the most important economic decision that the Government have taken—namely, the three-day week—he did not even have the decency to consult the CBI or the TUC? Does not that confirm the view of his right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) that the Prime Minister and his Government are politically immoral?

Photo of Mr Edward Heath Mr Edward Heath , Bexley

The purpose of any further meetings can be to make a further attempt to find a solution to the present industrial problems, which both the CBI and the TUC as well as the Government wish to do. I explained at NEDC the reason why there was not consultation over the three-day week and I have explained to the House. The Government did not wish to be in the position of being accused of threatening the National Union of Mineworkers' meeting on the Thursday morning.

Photo of Mr Gilbert Longden Mr Gilbert Longden , South West Hertfordshire

I s not part of the trouble that many people do not appreciate the real danger which threatens the pounds and the pence in our pockets? Would it help if, instead of always referring to our "counter-inflation" policy, we were to remind the nation that the present Government are the first Government since the war to make a determined effort to prevent the arrival of the day when we shall need a suitcase instead of a notecase to carry our money?

Photo of Mr Edward Heath Mr Edward Heath , Bexley

I agree with my hon. Friend that this Government have made a determined attempt, in conjunction with the CBI and the TUC, to find an orderly way of settling differences which arise over incomes and in particular over wages. During stages 1 and 2 the work we did was very successful. As I have already said, in stage 3 nearly 4 million workers have already agreed settlements and to that extent stage 3 also is successful. My desire is that the miners should find themselves able to accept stage 3, in which they are being treated as a special case, and that they should accept the invitation open to them immediately stage 3 is settled to have a complete and detailed discussion with the National Coal Board—and the Government if they wish—about the future pay structure of the whole industry.

Photo of Dennis Skinner Dennis Skinner , Bolsover

Why did not the Prime Minister use his meeting with the TUC last night to end all the silly speculation about a February election? As he did not tell the TUC, will he tell me now?

Photo of Mr Edward Heath Mr Edward Heath , Bexley

Because in the five and a half hours of intensive discussion between the TUC and the Government both sides were trying to find a solution to this problem, and the question of an election was never mentioned.

Photo of Mr Robert Adley Mr Robert Adley , Bristol North East

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the TUC has lifted its ban on members of the Communist Party holding office in unions affiliated to the TUC? Will he ask the TUC what was its object in so doing and whether it feels that this action has made a significant contribution to the improvement of industrial relations?

Photo of Mr Edward Heath Mr Edward Heath , Bexley

That has always been a matter for decision by individual unions through their own rule books. Therefore, if changes have been made in rule books they have been done by individual unions on their own decisions.

Photo of Michael Meacher Michael Meacher , Oldham West

As the alleged objective of the three-day week is to prevent wage inflation, is the Prime Minister aware that, on even the most absurdly pessimistic assumptions, a 50 per cent. increase in the rate of current pay settlements immediately for everyone for the whole of the next year would cost less than £2 billion, whereas the three-day working week, if it goes on until the spring, on the most conservative official NEDC assumptions, must cost at least £5 billion? Is not the imposition of the three-day week, therefore, a criminally irresponsible action?

Photo of Mr Edward Heath Mr Edward Heath , Bexley

As is so often the case, the hon. Gentleman has not realised what is at stake. The three-day week is brought about by the shortage of coal for power stations.

Photo of Mr John Jennings Mr John Jennings , Burton

Will my right hon. Friend recognise that this is a friendly question which contains a warm invitation? Does he know that my birthday is 10th February? In his future programme of meetings, will he consider visiting one of the breweries in Burton to celebrate my birthday with me during the first half of February? If he cannot manage 10th February, can he manage either of two dates on which I am completely free—7th and 14th February?

Photo of Mr Edward Heath Mr Edward Heath , Bexley

I shall certainly try to oblige my hon. Friend. It is not very often that a Prime Minister has such an opportunity, and I would welcome it.

Photo of Gavin Strang Gavin Strang , Edinburgh East

I s the Prime Minister aware that the farcical machinations of the Pay Board and the National Coal Board during the Christmas Recess regarding waiting time payments to miners and, now, the studied and prolonged so-called deliberation of the Government on the current TUC initiative are serving to convince more and more people that three-day working and industrial bitterness are being deliberately orchestrated by the Government in an attempt to create a political climate in which they can fight an election without defending their own disastrous economic record?

Photo of Mr Edward Heath Mr Edward Heath , Bexley

I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman on any of those points. The use of words such as "machinations" about the National Coal Board or the Pay Board will not help to find a solution. The Pay Board has been carrying out its duty under statute, and the National Coal Board is anxious to avoid industrial disruption and to find a settlement, as are the Government. On the three-day week, perhaps the hon. Gentleman—who treats these matters seriously—will address himself to the published figures which show the position of coal stocks in the past weeks.

Photo of Mr Angus Maude Mr Angus Maude , Stratford-on-Avon

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, while everyone in the country would like to be able to move towards a voluntary incomes policy, recent events and the discussions with the TUC seem to indicate that it is only within the safeguards of a statutory incomes policy that we can hope to get a safe agreement on a voluntary basis?

Photo of Mr Edward Heath Mr Edward Heath , Bexley

Yes, Sir. I agree that my hon. Friend is right in present circumstances. I also think that it is right to continue to try to develop a voluntary policy. All sides recognise—the CBI, the TUC and the Government, who have taken part in the talks over the last 18 months—that there must be very clear assurances and undertakings with a voluntary policy, whether on the side of wages or on the side of prices, and that the two go together to form a completely voluntary policy. All those—now nearly 4 million—who have made agreements under stage 3 have done so in the genuine belief that this is a fair and orderly process with which others will comply. That is the basis on which they have made their agreements, and rightly so.

Photo of Mr Harold Wilson Mr Harold Wilson , Huyton

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it is a fair interpretation of what he said this afternoon and of what the Secretary of State for Employment said in his public Press briefings last night that the outcome of the meeting yesterday between the Government and the TUC is still a matter for consideration by both sides and that the ball is still in play? Does he agree that no one who is in a position to have a determinate effect on this grave situation should at this time make the situation more difficult on the eve of this important all-union/TUC conference? In that spirit, will the right hon. Gentleman agree, after that conference is held, to meet the TUC committee that he has been meeting?

Photo of Mr Edward Heath Mr Edward Heath , Bexley

As I said in my statement, further meetings will be arranged as necessary. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment made plain last night in the conference to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, we regarded the meeting as adjourned, and that also is the view of the General Secretary of the TUC. Therefore, the right hon. Gentleman receives the assurance for which he asks.

Photo of Mr Paul Bryan Mr Paul Bryan , Howden

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it would be just as irresponsible for the Government to accept at once and without deep consideration the TUC assurance as a short cut out of our industrial trouble as it would be to reject it out of hand?

Photo of Mr Edward Heath Mr Edward Heath , Bexley

That is the reason why we have been having the three sets of talks, two with the TUC and one with the CBI. Everybody agrees that one must be clear about the assurance. The assurance so far quoted means that if the miners are to be considered as a special case—and the Government already consider them to be a special case and have shown so in stage 3—the other unions will not quote that in any wage negotiations. But the assurance does not say that other unions would be prepared to accept stage 3, nor does it say that other unions would refuse to use industrial action—which in some cases would be just as serious as that which is being suffered by the country at the moment.

Photo of Mr Michael Barnes Mr Michael Barnes , Brentford and Chiswick

I s it not the case, despite what the Prime Minister and my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition say, that the five and a half hours of talks were a sort of pre-election ballet, and a rather long one? Is it not the case that anybody who knows anything about politics knows that the Prime Minister is seeking an election now only to avoid fighting on his record? Why do we have to wait until Thursday?

Photo of Mr Edward Heath Mr Edward Heath , Bexley

I s not the hon. Gentleman doing less than credit to the intelligence and integrity of the six members of the TUC who took part in the talks? Is he suggesting that they would be prepared to take part in a ballet for the purposes he describes? The fact is that these talks were genuine and were acknowledged by both sides to be so.

Photo of Mr Anthony Fell Mr Anthony Fell , Yarmouth

May I again raise with my right hon. Friend a bone of contention, which has been raised several times this afternoon, concerning the Industrial Relations Act? Does he recall that on many occasions he has invited the TUC specifically to put forward proposals for changing the Industrial Relations Act which would help the unions? Will he say what recommendations, if any, have been put forward by the TUC for amendment of the Act?

Photo of Mr Edward Heath Mr Edward Heath , Bexley

My hon. Friend is correct to say that I have constantly said at meetings with employers as well as trade unionists that the Government will consider any recommendations which they wish to make for amendment of the Act. I have always added that these recommendations would carry much greater weight if they came from people who have been genuinely working the Act. Nevertheless, I said that we would consider any suggested amendments to the Act, and I believe that there is sufficient confidence within the three sides to recognise that this is a genuine offer. It is true to say, however, that neither employers nor trade unionists have put forword in the talks any proposals for amendment of the Act. But the offer still remains open.

Photo of Mr Arthur Palmer Mr Arthur Palmer , Bristol Central

On the three-day working week, will the Prime Minister answer a question which has not been put to him before: how far was properly organised load-shedding considered as an alternative to the three-day working week?

Photo of Mr Edward Heath Mr Edward Heath , Bexley

I know that the hon. Member for Bristol, Central (Mr. Palmer) has very specialised knowledge of these matters, and I can tell him that this was considered very fully indeed. Although there was no direct consultation the day before the decision was announced in Parliament, there has been consultation with industry over a considerable time on the best way to handle industry when, for one reason or another, complete power supplies are not available. We based our decisions on the general knowledge we had of its views.

Photo of Mr Jeremy Thorpe Mr Jeremy Thorpe , North Devon

Will the Prime Minister confirm that the Government attach importance to the report of the Pay Board on relativities which is expected at the end of the month? Does he agree that the recognition by the TUC that the miners were a special case is in itself a useful contribution to the discussion on relativities? On the basis that we assume the Prime Minister is more anxious to get an agreed incomes policy than a General Election, will he agree that any Government which failed to do everything they could to conciliate and which preferred confrontation at the polls would deserve the contempt of the electorate?

Photo of Mr Edward Heath Mr Edward Heath , Bexley

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that everything possible should be done to conciliate, and this is the case. This has been done within the context of the counter-inflation policy in stage 3. If the right hon. Gentleman considers the number of meetings which have been held and the generosity of the offer to the miners—because they are a special case and there has been widespread approval throughout the country that they are a special case—he will agree that we have proved that point. On relativities, as I said last week to the right hon. Lady the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle), it is not the fault of the Government that the report has been delayed because of the complexity of the matter and also the large amount of information provided by the unions to the Pay Board. I undertake that, when the report is provided, we shall carry out our undertaking to discuss with the TUC and CBI their views on its implementation.