Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

Complete list of 8,000+ Thatcher statements & texts of many of them

1975 Jun 26 Th
Margaret Thatcher

House of Commons PQs

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [894/658-67]
Editorial comments: 1515-30.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 3175
Themes: Employment, Monetary policy, Trade
[column 658]

TUC (Meeting)

Q1. Mr. Skinner

asked the Prime Minister if he will make a statement on his most recent meeting with the TUC.

Q10. Mr. Norman Lamont

asked the Prime Minister whether he will make a statement on his most recent meeting with the TUC.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Wilson)

I met members of the TUC at the informal meeting of the TUC-Labour Party Liaison Committee on 23rd June. We reviewed the present economic situation and devoted some time to the TUC's continuing work on the development of the social contract.

Mr. Skinner

Will my right hon. Friend consider the six-point plan that was produced by the TUC yesterday? Will he tell us, in that simple Yorkshire bluntness and directness for which he is famous, whether he agrees with it? Will he give a straight answer “Yes” or “No” ?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir, I greatly welcome the statement that was made yesterday. Indeed, on Tuesday I said that I thought it was a big step forward that they were talking about relating wage settlements over the next year to the target for price increases and not to the events of the previous year. I greatly welcome it. We shall want to discuss it with them and we shall want to build on it. I believe that is extremely helpful. I am sure the whole House, including the Conservative Opposition—will welcome the very big move forward to which my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), in his blunt Derbyshire manner, has drawn attention.

[column 659]

Mr. Lamont

When the Prime Minister next meets the TUC will he discuss with it the removal of Mr. Boyd, the moderate and democratically elected General Secretary of the AEUW, from his seat on the General Council? If the Prime Minister believes that trade unions are an important part of the nation's economy, surely he cannot turn a blind eye to the move of a few extremists to ensure that the will of the majority shall not prevail.

The Prime Minister

I knew Johnny Boyd before the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Lamont) was born. I share the description of Mr. Boyd given by the hon. Gentleman. I never found any Tory, when the Conservative Party was sitting on the Government side of the House, standing up for anything that Johnny Boyd said, but I am glad to see them doing so now. This is a matter for the TUC and the union, but I shall certainly regret the disappearance of Johnny Boyd from the higher councils of the TUC in which he has played such a tremendous part over the years. I have met him on a number of occasions in that and in other capacities.

Mr. Michael McGuire

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the increasing rate of unemployment is one of the subjects which are causing great concern and which are discussed at the joint meetings? Can he assure the House that the Government will implement that part of the scheme which my right hon. Friend outlined to the House in his statement on 23rd May, namely, to give Government assistance for stockpiling purposes in the textile industry and so prevent the closure of the Empress Mill, Ince, and thus help to save 350 jobs?

The Prime Minister

I am glad that my hon. Friend welcomed the statement I made on 23rd May concerning the very special problems of the textile, clothing, footwear and other industries. The problem of unemployment has been discussed at almost every meeting that I, and indeed my colleagues, have had with the TUC since the Government were formed 15 months ago. This is a matter which is raised in the six points which have already been referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover. I am not clear about the position of the Conservative Party, but we reject the deliberate use of unemployment and monetarism as a means of solving this problem.

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Mr. Marten

On wage inflation, would it not be in the national interest, certainly in the public sector to start with, if wage settlements could be made on the same day in the year?

The Prime Minister

That would be a difficult thing to organise unless there were a statutory determination that all wage settlements be done on the one day. I do not think that has ever been our practice under any Government. But there is a problem, to which the TUC draws attention in its document, regarding the rather protracted wage round. I think that paragraph 64 of the document put to the economic committee of the TUC states that it is very necessary that those who settle early in the annual round at a moderate rate should have some protection, some ability to be confident, that later settlements do not go a great deal higher and leave them in the lurch. This is one of the matters we have to discuss with the TUC following yesterday's discussions.

Mr. Prior

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that words about the creation of “inflation” and “unemployment” come ill from a Government and Prime Minister who are now allowing the rate of unemployment to rise by 50,000 a month? Is he aware that in his consultations with the TUC it would help the country if it knew what the target of price increases was likely to be for the coming year?

The Prime Minister

On the first point, I recall that unemployment was over 2 million when we came into office and that all the prognoses both of inflation and of unemployment suggested a very big increase in unemployment because the previous Government's boom had collapsed in the middle of 1973 before the confrontation and the three-day week. I said what I did because the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph) cast doubt on the unemployment figures and thought that they were very minimal indeed in real terms. I do not think that is the official view of the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw) with his experience of these matters. Both he and the Leader of the Conservative Party, in her famous article in the Sunday Express, rather suggested that there was something “phoney” about the figures. Therefore, we reject the deliberate use of unemployment. But [column 661]those on the Opposition Front Bench, in contradiction to some below the Gangway—though I cannot quite sort it out between one and another—who are advocating a monetary solution, which has not been repudiated by the Leader of the Opposition, are advocating the deliberate use of unemployment.


Q2. Mr. Ridley

asked the Prime Minister if he will pay another official visit to Moscow.

The Prime Minister

I have at present no plans to do so, Sir.

Mr. Ridley

In that case will the Prime Minister, with his well-known talent for renegotiation, seek to renegotiate the Anglo-Russian trade agreement? Is he aware that the massive extension of credits at cheap rates and the pledges to take imports from Russia in competition with home production are thought by many to be damaging to our interests? Will he submit the results of the last Anglo-Russian trade agreement to an impartial investigation to see whether it was in our favour or not?

The Prime Minister

I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman, though I know that he made the point in a Question to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade earlier this week. I explained at the time of the signature, when I reported to the House, that what was being done on credits was exactly what was being done by other European countries in competition with us—for example, France, Italy and Germany. We now have prospects of a very significant increase in trade and, therefore, in jobs as a result of this agreement. I am sure the hon. Gentleman will be delighted to know that since it was signed I have had a recent visit from Mr. Gvishiani—he is very important in these matters in the Soviet Union—who expressed his satisfaction with the reaction of British firms, which welcomed it, and also said that the Russian trade corporations are placing bigger orders. He believed that the trade arising from that agreement will be much bigger than was contemplated in February. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will welcome the creation of the jobs involved.

[column 662]

Mr. Frank Allaun

Will the Prime Minister back the holding of a summit conference next month as it is now supported by West Germany and France in view of the concession made by Russia over the advance notice of military manoeuvres? Secondly, will he support the American plan for a reduction in the tactical nuclear weapons stored in Europe in exchange for a reduction in Warsaw Pact conventional forces and the Soviet plan for a 17 per cent. reduction on both sides by 1977, as both proposals seem very sensible to some of us?

The Prime Minister

In general I certainly agree with my hon. Friend. We made clear, indeed before the events described by my hon. Friend, that we were anxious to have a meeting next month. I said—it was in the communiqué in Moscow in February—that there were still a lot of difficult problems to be overcome. They have substantially, but not all, been overcome, not least by the very close arrangements in Geneva between the British and Soviet delegations where we have been speaking for some of our allies and they for theirs. Therefore, I am hopeful that the meeting will take place next month. But there are one or two problems, and one is about the advance notification of military movements.

We certainly support the American proposal, and I am glad that my hon. Friend is lending his support to it. But we are a little disappointed, though I do not think that it will affect the timing of the conference, that more progress is not being made in Vienna on mutual balanced force reductions. I think that the House would like to see more progress on that issue, but it is not one of the issues for Helsinki.

Mr. Maurice Macmillan

In view of what the Prime Minister said about his disappointment over Vienna, and while in no way wishing to move away from his policy of détente, may I ask him to assure the House that, with our European partners, he will take great care over the safeguarding our essential interests and the maintenance of sufficient forces so to do, including free access to the raw materials on which our whole economy is based?

The Prime Minister

Yes, I agree. The right hon. Gentleman will be aware [column 663]that, as I told the House, I stressed both points, the raw materials point and the other, at the recent NATO conference.

I take issue with the right hon. Gentleman about consultation with our European partners. This is a NATO matter. It is in consultation with our American partners as well. In the NATO discussions I highlighted the problems of MBFR, where I do not believe we are making sufficiently satisfactory progress. A lot of progress has been made on most of the other matters affecting the conference on security and co-operation, but we want to see still more progress made on one or two outstanding questions so that we can attend the conference next month.

Secretary of State For Trade

Q3. Mr. McCrindle

asked the Prime Minister if he will dismiss the Secretary of State for Trade.

The Prime Minister

No, Sir.

Mr. McCrindle

On the question of trade and related matters, has the Prime Minister had a chance to study the proposals of the Tribune Group? Has he noted that on the very day when these proposals were issued the pound plummeted to an all-time low? Will he assure the House that the forthcoming package of measures that the Government are likely to introduce will bear no relationship to the recommendations of the Tribune Group?

The Prime Minister

My right hon. Friend is not a member of the Tribune Group. Nor would I have regarded it as a matter for dismissal had he been so. [An Hon. Member: “Perhaps for promotion?” ] The promotion that he deserves in all the circumstances is the result of the most successful stewardship of the export trade of this country for many years past under successive Governments. One day I should like to hear the Conservative Front Bench pay tribute to what has been achieved on exports. [Interruption.] I know about exports. They are more relevant to the balance of payments and the pound than any other single issue in this country.

I am well aware of the Tribune Group's proposals. They have been actively dis[column 664]cussed in this House. The main propositions concerning import controls and other things have been rejected by the Government. They have also been put in almost the same form to a party meeting upstairs and been rejected there.

Mr. Heffer

Is my right hon. Friend aware that members of the Tribune Group will be gratified that at least some hon. Members opposite can actually read what the group says? To be serious, however, does he agree that one of the most important problems facing us at the moment is how to deal with our serious economic situation? Therefore, is it not clear that there must be selective import controls and a tightening up of control on the outflow of capital, that we must consider taking over our own overseas portfolios—[Hon. Members: “No.” ]—that we must make further cuts in defence expenditure—[Hon. Members: “No.” ]—and that we must not rely on holding back wages as the only answer to Britain's economic problems?

The Prime Minister

I agree with my hon. Friend that it is gratifying that the hon. Gentleman is keeping abreast of important and controversial documents. I thought that this week he distinguished himself by offering to arbitrate, as it were, between the two Front Benches of the Conservative Party. I wish him luck. If the hon. Gentleman needs help from us we shall, of course, be glad to help him, although there is no ministerial responsibility of any kind.

My hon. Friend listed a number of points. In fact they have all been urged in recent economic debates in the House and at Question Time. I have said that selective import controls, apart from those which may be necessary and which we are ready to introduce where there is clear evidence of dumping or unfair practices, would be harmful to the country as a big trading nation when, despite the world depression, it is the only major country maintaining its export volumes. I think that those volumes would be imperilled if we were to adopt what my hon. Friend suggests.

Mrs. Thatcher

Is Harold Wilsonthe Prime Minister aware that my right hon. and hon Friends are delighted to pay tribute to the excellent export record achieved almost entirely by private enterprise? Is [column 665]he further aware that the longer he takes to deal with inflation, the higher unemployment will be in the end, and that the unemployment he gets next year will be directly attributable to his indecision?

The Prime Minister

I am glad to hear the right hon. Lady at last pay tribute to what has been achieved in exports, and mainly, of course, by private enterprise firms. It just happens that, as always, they are much more successful at exporting under a Labour Government. That is why we have had to hand over to Conservative Governments vast export surpluses which they have frittered away We then have to build them up all over again. We are getting used to that. I should like the right hon. Lady to do what I have done when I have paid tribute to the firms concerned—and I have done so several times in public. I would like the right hon. Lady to pay tribute to the workers in those industries who have made export achievements possible. Conservative Members are always ready to condemn workers but not to praise them. Even this afternoon they are not prepared to praise them for what they have done as regards the export effort.

The right hon. Lady is aware, as we have made clear, that we are giving urgent attention to the problems to which she has referred. I hope that she will tell us how much she welcomes the move by the TUC yesterday. If we are to proceed by consent—I hope that the Conservative Party will agree with this, because the right hon. Lady is opposed to statutory policies—I hope that the right hon. Lady will agree that it was right to give time for the TUC yesterday to take this important decision, which I hope she welcomes. We wanted to see that take place and we are now in a position to discuss the matter with the TUC. We shall do so urgently. I believe that such a solution would carry widespread support from the right hon. Lady. I know from all she has said that she would welcome an agreement with both sides of industry as regards the solving of our inflation problem rather than the use of statutory methods.

[column 666]

Mr. David Steel

Is the Prime Minister aware that in fairness to the Secretary of State for Trade, whose dismissal is being sought in the Question, the right hon. Gentleman is unlikely to be able to do anything to improve our trading position or to arrest the slide in the value of our currency until such time as the Prime Minister or the Chancellor of the Exchequer bring forward their economic proposals to the House? The Prime Minister told us on Tuesday that that would be before the Summer Recess, but that is still over four weeks away. Will not the Prime Minister bring forward his proposals a great deal sooner than that?

The Prime Minister

Yes, certainly, that is what we would like to do. We want to get the matter in a workable form, and certainly before the recess. The hon. Gentleman brought forward his proposals to the House two days ago, I think, and they were rejected by the House. His proposals involve statutory policies.

I think that the vast majority of the House, apart from a few Conservatives below the Gangway, recognises that criminal sanctions in these matters have not worked in the past. They did not work under the Industrial Relations Act. No one has answered the question of what happens when people are brought before the courts in respect of wage settlements. I think that the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition was absolutely right about that in what she said on television recently.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that this matter must be pushed on with urgency. We now have something very important on which to build, and something which has not happened before, in relation to the TUC's decision. The former Conservative Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath), spent very many months talking with the TUC but he was not prepared to offer what was necessary to get the kind of offer that the TUC made yesterday. We want to build on that. I am sure that the whole House will be prepared to give long enough to the Government to ensure that what we produce is workable and acceptable to the country.