Q1. Mr. Thorpe
asked the Prime Minister whether he will designate a senior Minister within the Department of Employment to take special responsibility for the self-employed.
The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. [column 766]Edward Short)
As the House knows, my right hon. Friend is visiting the Federal Republic of Germany today for informal talks with the Federal Chancellor, and in his absence I have been asked to reply.
No, Sir. The valuable contribution of the self-employed to the community derives from the diversity of their activities and interests. Matters arising from these activities do not form a coherent whole and are better handled on the basis of the existing pattern of ministerial responsibilities.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that to many people that will be a disappointing answer? As there are 2 million self-employed, who employ in turn 6 million wage earners who represent one-fourth of our work force and who produce one-fifth of our wealth, and as they are going out of business at the rate of 4,000 a year, would it not be a satisfactory thing if there were a Minister to whom they could make known their problems urgently?
No, Sir. The problem is that the self-employed are not a homogeneous group. They range, for example, from the small business man and shopkeeper to the professional person. The only common points are the way in which they are taxed and the way in which their national insurance contributions are computed, and here I think that a very fair balance is struck. The great difficulty, therefore, is in regarding them as one coherent, homogeneous group.
Will my right hon. Friend tell the Prime Minister, when he gets back from one of his many visits during the course of the last few months, that quite apart from the problems of the self-employed many of us are deeply concerned about the unemployment figures that have been declared today? Will he also tell the Prime Minister that we are not prepared to tolerate the continuation of a policy which is resulting in totals of this kind with a Labour Government, and that some alternative steps should be taken along the lines indicated in the many discussions that have taken place between ourselves and the Government, especially in respect of the prevention of the importation of unemployment arising out of the lack of will on the part of the Government to impose import controls?[column 767]
On the first part of his question, I am sure that my hon. Friend and the whole House will welcome the leadership which the Prime Minister is demonstrating in Europe at present. As regards my hon. Friend's second point, the Government share, as I am sure do all hon. Members, my hon. Friend's concern about the figures announced today. The Secretary of State for Employment will be making an announcement about this matter at the end of Question Time.
Mr. Jasper More
Considering the enormous contribution which the self-employed make to both the stability and the prosperity of the country, do they not deserve something better than the consistently raw deal that they have been dealt by the present Government?
No, Sir. That suggestion is utterly untrue. The present Government have done a great deal to help the self-employed. The Question was about a special Minister for the self-employed. I pointed out that the problem is that they are dealt with by a great many Departments, because they are not a coherent group.
Mr. David James
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May we ask the Leader of the House to speak up? We cannot hear him.
Q2. Mr. Cryer
asked the Prime Minister when he next expects to meet the TUC.
Mr. Edward Short
I have been asked to reply.
I refer my hon. Friend to the reply—[Hon. Members: “Speak up.” ] I think that probably the microphone is not working. I refer my hon. Friend to the reply which my right hon. Friend gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) on 22nd July.
When my right hon. Friend meets the TUC, will he be able to explain how the Government's measures are reducing income and thereby reducing demand, and are likely to increase the already very serious unemployment figures? What will the Government do about activating the National Enterprise [column 768]Board to increase investment and reduce unemployment? How long will the Government prop up ailing capitalism at the expense of workers' jobs? Will my right hon. Friend urge the Prime Minister to concentrate on those urgent economic matters instead of joining in the campaign of vilification and abuse which has been going on over the past few days against members of the Newham Labour Party? Will he tell him that his intervention was both deeply resented and clearly unproductive?
The National Enterprise Board will be activated as soon as the Bill receives Royal Assent. With regard to discussions with the TUC, my hon. Friend will recall that the policy is one agreed and initiated by the TUC.
Have not today's unemployment figures been greeted with particular dismay precisely because of all the foolish rhetoric of the Prime Minister and his colleagues that this could not happen under a Labour Government? Is not the only chance of acceptance of the new policy to say clearly that because of old policies there will certainly be much higher unemployment even than we have seen today, and much higher prices in the months to come?
My right hon. Friend and many of my hon. Friends have warned about the effect of inflation on employment over the last few months. As I have said, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment will be making a statement on the figures at the end of Questions today.
Mr. William Hamilton
Does my right hon. Friend recognise that some of us are becoming very tired of the attempt to make cheap party political points about the current situation, whether it be unemployment or inflation? Will he confirm that the reason why the TUC has agreed to co-operate with the Government in their current policies is that it recognises the truth of the statements of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister that one man's wage increase is another man's price increase, and also his prospects for the dole queue?
My hon. Friend is absolutely correct. I hope that the whole House will pay tribute to the courage [column 769]and statesmanship of the TUC in this matter.
Is Edward Shortthe Lord President aware that we have some sympathy with him over the frequency with which he has had to reply for Harold Wilsonthe Prime Minister in recent weeks, and particularly today when there is such bad news about the unemployment figures? Is it true that not only is the Prime Minister absent today but that he intends to be away on Tuesday and Thursday of next week as well?
The implications of the right hon. Lady's question are beneath contempt.
Q3. Mr. Tebbit
asked the Prime Minister if he has received an invitation to speak at the next TUC conference.
Mr. Edward Short
I have been asked to reply.
When the Prime Minister receives an invitation, and when he goes, will he bear in mind the words he used on 24th January 1972 in this House, when he referred to my right hon. Friend the Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) as the first dole-queue millionaire to cross the Channel since Neville Chamberlain? Will the Lord President remind us what are the dole queue figures today, and on which side of the Channel is his right hon. Friend?
The difference is that today we are at the bottom of a world recession. When the unemployment figures topped the million mark under the Government of which the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition was a member not long ago, there was no world recession.
Will my right hon. Friend arrange to have an invitation extended from the TUC to the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition to address its next conference, whereupon she might find that she had to address herself to the real problems of the country instead of making snide and bitchy remarks?
That is a very attractive idea. For once I agree with my hon. Friend. I am sure that the TUC will [column 770]take note of the suggestion. It will make a nice change for the right hon. Lady from the usual country-house circuit.
NATIONAL ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT COUNCIL
Q4. Mr. Lawson
asked the Prime Minister when he next expects to take the chair at a meeting of the NEDC.
Q8. Mr. Norman Lamont
asked the Prime Minister when he next intends to take the chair at a meeting of the NEDC.
Q10. Mr. Stanley
asked the Prime Minister when he will next take the chair at a meeting of the NEDC.
Mr. Edward Short
I have been asked to reply.
I refer the hon. Members to the reply which my right hon. Friend gave to the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson) on 24th June.
I do not know what that answer was. But while we all understand the great anxiety that the Government have not to publish the secret reserve powers Bill until after the TUC conference in September, nevertheless, can the right hon. Gentleman tell the House whether it is true that the reserve powers in draft would impose penalties on employers in the private sector but not impose penalties on employers in the public sector and nationalised industries; and if not, why the distinction?
My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer explained the contents of the reserve powers Bill fully in his speech at the beginning of the week.
Will my right hon. Friend inform my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister that, official figures notwithstanding, there is still grave apprehension among ordinary people about rises in prices? Will the special secret powers be able to deal with those latter-day Old Mother Hubbards who stock their cupboards full and tell everybody that they are empty until there are high prices?
Without commenting on the Old Mother Hubbards, I can say that the contents of the Bill are not secret. My right hon. Friend spelt out in precise [column 771]terms what the Bill contains. As for publication of the Bill, as I said last week I hope that it will never have to be published.
What is the real difference between a statutory incomes policy and an incomes policy imposed with a threat of statutory action if it is not accepted?
The difference is that there is a statute to enforce it.
Mr. Frank Allaun
To overcome the growing and tragic unemployment situation, may I ask the Government to launch a great housing and public works programme, such as in similar circumstances President Roosevelt produced in the thirties? Since it costs £2,000 a year to keep an unemployed building worker and his family by way of tax relief and unemployment benefit, would it not be better to have that man working? Will the Government reject the advice of the Treasury and Conservative Members who call for a reduction in public spending? Will my right hon. Friend say that, on the contrary, this is the very moment to increase such spending for all purposes?
Everyone will share my hon. Friend's concern about these tragic figures. Unemployment and inflation are our major problems this year. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment is to make a statement very shortly.
Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House how the new pay policy can possibly work fairly if those who have an entitlement to annual increments can secure substantially more than £6 while those who do not have such entitlements cannot?
The hon. Gentleman knows that the entitlement to increments has been agreed, provided that the total wage bill does not exceed the product of the £6.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that in the last quarter of an hour we have heard a great deal of sickening hypocrisy from Conservative Members? Does he further agree that although they claim to be in favour of controlling inflation, they have been busily pointing out the level of unem[column 772]ployment and sniping at the pay policy, as no doubt they will go on doing all night?
I am sure that this is correct. The country will have noticed the posture of the Opposition in the past few days—with one or two notable exceptions.
If the right hon. Gentleman continues to claim that the contents of the secret powers Bill were fully disclosed by the Chancellor the other day, why does he continue to object to publishing those contents?
There is no need to publish a Bill which is not required. If it is required it will be published. I have explained that carefully.
Mr. David Steel
Since the Government are appealing for national unity and for support of their policies, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman to suggest to the Prime Minister that when he takes the chair at the next NEDC meeting he should pursue the suggestion of the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection and invite representatives from Opposition parties to share in discussions on the Government's policies?
I will certainly pass that suggestion on to the Prime Minister when he returns.
Does the hon. Member for Maidstone (Mr. Wells) wish to raise a point of order?
No longer, Sir.