Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

Her Majesty's Government (Opposition Motion)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 9th June 1976.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr James Callaghan Mr James Callaghan The Prime Minister, Leader of the Labour Party, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee 12:00 am, 9th June 1976

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have a long speech to make.

Next, we have the overriding objective to persist in the hard and stony path of pacifying Northern Ireland, to assure the people of Northern Ireland that there is no doubt about their position as part of the United Kingdom as long as they wish to remain so but that we shall be ready to envisage a devolved Government in Northern Ireland who have the support of the whole community.

These are our objectives. We shall pursue the objective of ensuring, as far as Parliament can, a society in which racial harmony and tolerance will flourish, and through the medium of the Race Relations Bill, now on its way through Parliament, we shall give legislative backing to that end.

Finally, when we have recovered our economic strength we shall use the influence that we gain from our economic recovery to strengthen our position abroad, to ensure a peaceful solution to world problems through the use of the United Nations and other international organisations, to assist in overcoming the poverty of the Third World and to use our influence in the defence of freedom and to strengthen Europe's voice. These are the overall objectives of the Government. From the beginning our strategy has been to replace the atmosphere of confrontation, which we found when we came to office, by co-operation. The task is so great that no Government can fulfil these major objectives on its own.

Perhaps the greatest condemnation of the previous Administration was that it forfeited the confidence of workers, especially in its ham-fisted handling of industrial relations.

When we were in opposition we devised a social contract. That has been the subject of many sneers, but it was designed for one purpose—and I know because I had some hand in it—namely, the idea of co-operation as opposed to confrontation. The repeal of the Industrial Relations Act, undertaken under the leadership of my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council, enabled a fresh and more hopeful start to be made in industry between management and men.

It must be the experience of nearly everybody that the atmosphere in Britain's factories and workshops has much improved since the confrontation of 1973. Evidence of this comes in every day—and, what is more, the record shows it to be so.

During 1975 we lost fewer days through strikes than in any year since 1968. We have kept up the improvement during 1976, and in the first four months of this year little more than half of last year's total of working days was lost, favourable though last year was. If we keep that up in our industrial relations, we shall be on the way to a new era.

Furthermore, the number of stoppages this year is far smaller than the figure last year. It is only the class warriors among the Opposition who cannot see what is happening in industry today.

I agree with the right hon. Lady that the social contract was a unique innovation in our political life. It is a topic to which Parliament must pay attention so that Parliament can be involved in a full discussion of these matters. Even if that situation has not been properly worked out—and I do not think that it has—not even the Leader of the Opposition could deny that the social contract has had remarkable success in improving the atmosphere of this country. We intend to reinforce the situation in due course with a new social contract to enable us to proceed with confidence in the years ahead. The Labour Government must rest not only on trade union and working-class support, as we do, but on the support of a wider group—and, indeed, we need every other group in the country, too.

The CBI knows from my meetings with its representatives that we seek its co-operation in the task of industrial regeneration. The Government cannot do this on their own. The right hon. Lady said that we paid lip-service to the situation that affects the CBI and middle managers. There is a difference between paying lip service and saying "Yes, we recognise your problem, but there are things that must wait." This is the position in which the country finds itself.

Middle managers are a group whose voice has not been much heard, but they have behind them a great deal of experience. They are responsible for procuring new orders and for meeting export deadlines. I know that some of them feel that they have borne the brunt of events in the last few years and have regarded themselves as being between the upper and nether millstones. I wish to assure them that the Government recognise that their contribution, too, is invaluable.

Let me return to the question of group pressure. There are many well-organised and socially-valuable groups who are making clamant demands on the Government. Often, if not always, such demands are entirely justifiable. The middle managers feel that their standards have been cut. Young people in Scotland, England and Wales are finishing their teacher-training and are pressing that every one of them should have a teaching job irrespective of whether the resources exist to provide those jobs, and despite the great improvement in pupil-teacher ratios. Anybody who has examined the figures will know the vast improvement which has taken place under Labour and Conservative Governments, in the last 10 or 15 years.

The Child Poverty Action Group is pressing the Government for full implementation of the new scheme to give large additional allowances to mothers. The pensioners are pressing for an earlier increase in their pensions, and foremen and skilled men in industry feel that their differentials are being squeezed. All have legitimate claims. The common factor is that they are all demanding more.