Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

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

1975 Jul 22 Tu
Margaret Thatcher

House of Commons PQs

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [896/288-96]
Editorial comments: 1515-30.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 2706
Themes: Monetary policy, Pay
[column 288]

TUC AND CBI (TALKS)

Q1. Mr. Whitehead

asked the Prime Minister what recent consultations he has had with the TUC and CBI.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Wilson)

I refer my hon. Friend to the statement which I made to the House on 11th July, Sir.

Mr. Whitehead

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many of us who will support him wholeheartedly in the Lobby tonight welcome the support he has received from trade unions at the Durham Miners' Gala and elsewhere? However, is he also aware that we do not believe that support will continue to be forthcoming if there are further massive cuts in public expenditure? Is he aware that there is probably only a short time [column 289]in which to work out a satisfactory voluntary incomes policy that avoids re-entry into either the thickets of a statutory policy which would be unworkable or the morass of so-called free collective bargaining?

The Prime Minister

I thank my hon. Friend. My right hon. Friends and I who attended the Durham Gala were gratified by the wholehearted reaction of that great mining community to the Government's proposals. With regard to public expenditure, that was dealt with very fully by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his speech yesterday afternoon. I agree with my hon. Friend—and this was a point made by the Leader of the Opposition on 11th July—that we must use this year to work out some satisfactory plan for the period that follows. We must avoid the re-entry problems that almost invariably follow a period of this kind.

Mr. Baker

Can the Prime Minister say whether it is likely, in his view, that by the winter of 1976–77 unemployment will be at 2 million?

The Prime Minister

That is not, in our view, likely. It is a fact that we are facing a very serious rise in unemployment in common with every other advanced country in the world. The fact that it has not risen as much in this country up to the present time and that exports have been maintained and industrial production has fallen less is no cause for satisfaction for anyone. The Western world—this came out clearly at the Heads of Government conference last week—is deeply concerned about the virulence and depth of the world depression which, as many of us forecast, is now as bad as the 1930s in many respects.

DURHAM

Q2. Mr. Cartwright

asked the Prime Minister if he will pay an official visit to Durham.

The Prime Minister

I was at the Durham Miners' Gala on 19th July, Sir, and I have at present no plans for a further visit to the area.

Mr. Cartwright

Can my right hon. Friend say whether he has found, in Dur[column 290]ham or anywhere else, any appreciation of the attitude of the official Opposition, who claim that they want a more dramatic cut in the rate of inflation than that proposed by the Government while at the same time demanding cuts in housing and food subsidies, which would simply increase the cost of living of the ordinary worker and, therefore, make inflation still worse?

The Prime Minister

I found no support for the views of the Opposition whether from the Durham miners or the leaders of other coalfields who were present at the gala. I think that some of the miners felt it might have been a good idea if they had invited leaders of the Opposition to Durham. If they spent more time with mineworkers and less with monetarists, they would learn a great deal more about not only the muscle and backbone but also the heart of Britain.

Mr. Ridley

Even if the Prime Minister cannot visit Durham, can he find a way of telling the Durham miners why he had abandoned his commitment to free collective bargaining and done a U-turn in favour of statutory controls which he has opposed in the past few years?

The Prime Minister

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that we said in our manifesto that these matters should be dealt with in consultation with the trade union movement. That movement has now made a historic pronouncement which the previous Prime Minister spent many months trying to get. He was right to do so. We are fortifying with legislation, which is to be debated tomorrow, measures and protections required to make a reality of the voluntary proposals and policy of the TUC.

Mr. Mark Hughes

Will my right hon. Friend accept that my constituents and I are deeply touched by the solicitude of my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Cartwright) in asking my right hon. Friend to visit us? Will he, however, comment on the most notable speech of Mr. Lawrence Daly last Saturday from the platform at Durham?

The Prime Minister

It was indeed a notable speech. Mr. Daly made certain comments about Members' pay which might not be totally acceptable in all [column 291]quarters of the House, but what he said about the decision of the NUM executive and the advice he was giving in respect of the coalfield ballot this year was extremely encouraging, coming as it did after the decision of the executive. I should like to hear some praise and support from the Opposition Front Bench for what Mr. Daly had the courage to say last Saturday.

Mr. Cyril Smith

If the Prime Minister finds it possible to go to Durham, he could do so by going through my constituency of Rochdale. If he did that, would he be prepared to tell the textile workers in my constituency when he proposes that the Government should make their statement on textiles? Is he aware that I have in my hand a telegram from the trade union movement in Rochdale certifying that the closure of another textile mill affecting 250 employees has been announced in Rochdale today? When are we to know the Government's policy on this matter?

The Prime Minister

The hon. Member is perfectly fair in what he says. If one went to Durham through the textile areas of Yorkshire and Lancashire I am sure that one would hear expressed the sense of urgency to which the hon. Member referred. My right hon. Friend has made clear that a statement will be made within the next few days.

Mrs. Thatcher

As Harold Wilsonthe Prime Minister has returned to the point about the Government's policy on inflation, will he say something about the reserve powers? Is he saying that he will drop the reserve powers in the Bill if he cannot find a way of absolving the unions from the consequences of refusing to abide by a court's decision, or will he go ahead with them in any event?

The Prime Minister

We have not said that at all. The House will be debating these matters further, and I hope to catch your eye this afternoon, Mr. Speaker. The Bill which we have said we will hold in reserve and would introduce if the general strategy was imperilled would not involve the problem about which the right hon. Lady is rightly concerned. The question she has put raises issues which do not arise.

[column 292]

ECONOMIC AFFAIRS

(PRIME MINISTER'S SPEECH)

Q3. Mr. Adley

asked the Prime Minister if he will place in the Library a copy of his public speech to the National Union of Mineworkers at Scarborough on 7th July on economic matters.

Q4. Mr. Hurd

asked the Prime Minister if he will place in the Library a copy of his public speech on the economic situation to the National Union of Mineworkers at Scarborough on 7th July.

Q8. Mr. Aitken

asked the Prime Minister if he will place in the Library of the House a copy of his public speech on inflation to the National Union of Mineworkers conference at Scarborough on 7th July.

The Prime Minister

I did so on the same day, Sir.

Mr. Adley

Is the Prime Minister aware that many people outside the Parliamentary Labour Party will welcome the way in which the executive of the National Union of Mineworkers has agreed not to try to sabotage immediately what many people have described as phase 4 of the last Conservative Government's incomes policy? Will he accept that he should be grateful that on this occasion Her Majesty's Opposition are not acting as Scargill's parliamentary fifth column, trying to destroy Her Majesty's Government regardless of the effects on the nation or inflation?

The Prime Minister

I rather formed the view, from reading a story, which I am sure will be denied by the Opposition Front Bench, about some motion that the Opposition were putting down on the Order Paper to reject the means of carrying out the White Paper proposals, that they were specifically identifying themselves with the fifth column of those who want to see the White Paper fail. I may be wrong. Perhaps that was for them just a rush of blood to the head after midnight. However, the motion certainly appeared on the Order Paper. If the Opposition are to vote against the Bill which is the legislative vehicle for the White Paper, which I am sure in general they wish to commend to the House, I believe that that would be an act of parliamentary sabotage.

[column 293]

Mr. Bidwell

When my right hon. Friend is speaking in the country, will he carefully explain that the aspect of wage restraint in the White Paper and in the Government's policy reflects only one side of TUC policy and that a lot of TUC policy has been rejected so far by the Government? Will he undertake to continue discussions with the TUC about the rest of its statement?

The Prime Minister

I am glad that my hon. Friend responds to the initiative taken by the TUC. He knows that this is the substantial majority view of the General Council and that since the General Council decision union after union has come into line with it. I am sure that in forming his view about the proposals before the House my hon. Friend will attach great weight to the fact that the policy has been agreed with the TUC. We discussed and debated in direct discussions with the TUC, at NEDC and at yesterday morning's meeting of the liaison committee all aspects of the TUC's proposals and wider issues of economic policy.

Mr. Thorpe

As one who hopes that the White Paper will be successful and who will be voting for it tonight, I hope the Prime Minister is aware that many of us who have grave reservations about details of the legislation to be debated tomorrow and the reserve powers which have not been disclosed believe that it would be very much better if they were disclosed to the TUC, the CBI and the House of Commons. Why are the Government so coy about telling us precisely what reserve powers they have in mind?

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Gentleman has made clear his general support for the White Paper. He will have every opportunity to debate on the Bill later this week any anxieties he may have about the operation of the legislation before the House. As for the measure that we have said we must keep in reserve, hoping that we shall never have to introduce it but which we shall introduce if the general strategy is threatened, this was dealt with fully by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer yesterday afternoon.

Mr. Hurd

In the speech to which the Questions refer the Prime Minister rightly [column 294]stressed the need for consent, and that obviously goes far wider than the miners. Will the right hon. Gentleman clarify the position of employers in the light of his answers today? After 1st August, will not employers be entering into commitments with their work force which might constitute a legal offence of which they have no knowledge, carrying a penalty of which they have no idea? Is not the only certainty that they will receive no protection if other people try to force them to break the law?

The Prime Minister

The hon. Member has misunderstood the situation. There is no question of employers entering into commitments after 1st August which they might find retrospectively to be against the law. There has been a misunderstanding here and I understand why, but the hon. Gentleman need have no anxieties on that score.

Mr. Mike Thomas

Is my right hon. Friend aware that he will find it much less pleasant to address the NUM in 12 months' time if the rate of inflation is still between 15 per cent. and 18 per cent.? Will he concede that there is a real prospect of that, given the increases in the pipeline from last year's and this year's wage round and from raw material price increases? Will he take action to tighten up the prices side of the package to try to make sure that this does not happen?

The Prime Minister

I agree that that would be the position in a year's time if what my hon. Friend predicts were to happen. No one realises this more clearly than the NUM and the other unions, and that is why they are taking such a robust line in support of the Government's policy. On the question of the Price Code, and this is to some extent involved in the legislation before the House tomorrow, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection—I do not think that Hansard is yet available with the full record of what she said—dealt fully with some of these matters last night. She made clear that apart from the specific measures she is proposing, some by way of legislation, it is not the case that the present level of profits in some of the key sectors of wholesale, retail and manufacturing are such that it will be [column 295]possible greatly to tighten them up without very serious effects, possibly on employment.

Mr. Aitken

I welcome much of the Prime Minister's rather belated conversion to realism as demonstrated in his Scarborough speech. Will he explain why he spent so long blaming the problems of the economy on such bogies as wet hens running around the cocktail circuit and why he did not speak in blunt language to the miners and the other unions much sooner?

The Prime Minister

I did. I gave my view to the TUC last September. On the point about a quotation from a broadcast some weeks ago, this was because there was a concerted drive against sterling based on a lot of gossip at the very time when it was becoming clear that our balance of payments deficit was falling to one quarter of what it was a year ago. Since then successively we have had very good export and trade figures. In the first six months of this year we achieved a current deficit of less than £500 million—an annual rate of £1,000 million—against estimates of £4 billion and £5 billion last year. This is a remarkable achievement and justifies what I said about some who are selling sterling short.

Mr. Donald Stewart

As the House and the people have been conned on several occasions into buying the gold brick of a statutory incomes policy, is it not sheer gall that we are presented with it once again, except that on this occasion the gold brick will not even pass before our very eyes?

The Prime Minister

I do not know about the gold bricks and the gall around here. However, the position was made clear by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer that the legislation which we are asking the House to pass to fortify the voluntary policy agreed with the TUC will be debated by the House tomorrow. Any other legislation will be in reserve only in case the strategy breaks down. The House would have the first opportunity of debating that legislation before it could possibly become law. As to what the legislation will contain, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer explained in [column 296]detailed terms yesterday what the Government have in mind.

Several Hon. Members

rose——

Mr. Speaker

Order. There are 75 hon. Members who wish to speak in the debate which is to follow.