Edward Heath – 1974 Speech on Fuel Crisis

Below is the text of the speech made by Edward Heath, the then Prime Minister, in the House of Commons, on 9 January 1974.

I want at the outset of this debate to restate the hard facts which made the Government take the steps they announced in the House on 13th December. The underlying position has not materially altered since those measures were debated in the House on 18th December. The facts were not challenged then, nor were they refuted at the meeting of the National Economic Development Council which followed, at which I took the chair.

Now the facts are accepted by the vast majority of responsible opinion in this country. The only difference is between those who believe that the action we took was wise and those who consider that we should have allowed our stocks to be used up, with the risk of industry grinding to a halt and essential services being damaged.

The measures we took, including the three-day week, were forced on us by the need to make sure that our electricity supplies did not break down within a few weeks. This was a direct result of a fall in coal production, now down by almost 30 per cent., resulting from the miners’ industrial action begun on 12th November. I remind the House that it was only after five weeks of such action, when we could clearly see the consequences for the nation as a whole, that I made my statement to the House.

In the five weeks following the miners’ action, power stations’ coal stocks fell by 3.6 million tons. This compared with a fall of 500,000 tons in the corresponding period last year. At 8th December the stocks stood at 16.2 million tons. A continued rundown of stocks of nearly 1 million tons a week would have reduced this total to the critical level of about 7 million tons by early February. That was on the optimistic assumption that the weather remained mild. It also presupposed that the industrial action in the mines or on the railways was not intensified. We had arranged for increased oil supplies to be sent to the power stations, and at 1st January the Central Electricity Generating Board had enough oil for three weeks’ use at all its oil-burning stations.

The Government were not prepared to see a rundown in coal stocks such as I have described. The alternative was just to let the situation continue as we did in 1972, at the time of the miners’ strike. The Government were bitterly criticised at that time for so doing ; criticised by industry, criticised by the unions and criticised by the public, and, looking back, I should have to admit rightly so. But we have learned from that experience. In those circumstances, it was our duty to ensure as a matter of common prudence that the situation in 1972 was not repeated. In my belief, and, I hope, that of the House, no responsible Government could have done otherwise.

As a result of the measures that we have taken, the saving in electricity consumption has reached about 21 per cent. I should like to pay tribute to the public and thank them for their co-operation. The contribution which they have made by their economies is of major importance. Both employers and the trade unions have also striven to adapt themselves to the limited electricity supplies available. They have striven with skill and ingenuity, and the nation owes them—both employers and trade unions—a great debt for so doing, and I hope the House will join me in asking for their continued co-operation.

To ensure that we can together see the winter through without further major dislocation we need to consolidate that achievement and, indeed, to do rather better. The Government will continue to try to find ways of securing economies in the use of electricity and thus of giving more help to industry. In this we are assisted by the settlement within stage 3 made by the power workers on 5th January.

Since the electricity restrictions took effect we have saved about 1½ million tons of coal. In the week before Christmas, power station coal stocks fell by less than 500,000 tons compared with 1 million tons in the first week of December. Over the Christmas period, the stock rundown was 750,000 tons when the loss was expected to be 1¼ million tons. As I have already told the House, and as I explained to the NEDC and have said repeatedly in public, the three-day week can be ended as soon as the miners decide to return to normal working and adequate supplies of coal are reaching the power stations.

There is one other matter with which I should like to deal. [Interruption.] With respect, part of the agreement between the National Coal Board and the National Union of Mineworkers is that safety maintenance should be done by extra shifts. That is not occurring, and that is one of the main reasons for the fall in coal production.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

The right hon. Gentleman does not know the agreement.

The Prime Minister

I have it here, and I am prepared to read it to the House. Clause 3 of the 1947 five-day week agreement states: The union will enter into arrangements with the board to provide for the regular working of additional shifts by certain categories of workers where this is necessary to ensure the safety of the pit.

Mr. Skinner rose——

The Prime Minister

There is nothing controversial about this. This is a matter of fact and it is what justifies my statement that when the miners return to normal working it will be possible to get proper production and the coal will get through to the power stations.

Mr. Michael McGuire (Ince)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

The Prime Minister

I am sorry, no.

I listened to Mr. Gormley at the weekend, and there is one matter with which I should like to deal because there seems to be a genuine misunderstanding.

Mr. McGuire rose——

The Prime Minister

I am sorry, but I shall not give way.

Mr. Gormley said: If the members of the National Union of mineworkers went back to normal working tomorrow, you would still have this crisis. If it had not happened this month, it would have been in the next two or three months inevitably. If there is genuine misunderstanding here, I wish to remove it. The three-day week is in the use of electricity, and that is the consequence of the fall in supplies of coal to the power stations.

There is now another factor of the utmost importance for British industry: the reduction in steel production. It is not the three-day week that has caused the British Steel Corporation to cut back production to 50 per cent. It is the lack of essential coking coal for the mills. The facts are that normal deliveries of coking coal to the blast furnaces have been cut to two-thirds of what is required. The corporation’s margins of coal are now down to 3.7 weeks’ supply at full production. That in itself, irrespective of Government action, will involve major shortages of material in manufacturing industry, with consequent short-time working and unemployment.

The three-day week is not the consequence of the oil supply situation. The measures that we took in November would have been adequate to ensure the minimum of damage to industrial production from reductions in our oil supplies. We were assured at the time that industry could absorb those cuts by economies, and this has proved to be the case.

The three-day week is not the result of higher oil prices. Indeed, it is essential that we meet this further external challenge by increasing production and exports to pay for the fuel that we require until our own resources are sufficiently developed to meet those needs.

We also have to make adequate arrangements to safeguard our supplies of imported oil. That is the object of the negotiations now under way with Iran and of our contacts with other oil-producing States which the Government have rightly taken on in the interests of Britain. We wish to co-operate with both the oil-producing and oil-consuming nations in making these arrangements, about both the supply and the price of oil. It is obviously in the interests of all that there should not be an unrestrained international scramble for the supplies that are available.

A number of proposals for international co-operation have already been made. It is right that there should be early talks between the major consuming countries, and that these talks should be broadened to include the producing countries. We have ourselves put some ideas to the American administration on how to follow up the initiative that Dr. Kissinger took in London at the Pilgrims Dinner, which I welcomed in the House and at Copenhagen and which I have welcomed on several other occasions. Meanwhile, I understand that an announcement will be made very shortly by the American Government about new proposals for a meeting in this connection. As soon as these proposals are received—which, I repeat, I understand will be in the very near future—we shall at once consult our Community partners about the response to them.

The recent developments in the supply and, above all, the price of oil have completely transformed not only the degree but the very nature of the energy problem that faces us and, indeed, most Western industrial countries in the coming years. They have clearly added to the amount of time and effort that needs to be devoted to the subject of energy both at ministerial and at official level. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and my right hon. Friend the former Chief Secretary to the Treasury have been handling these matters with coolness and skill, but inevitably they and their officials have had less time for the other major tasks facing the Department of Trade and Industry.

I recall that when I created the Department of Trade and Industry a few months after the present administration took office it was welcomed by the Leader of the Opposition, who had indeed said that similar thoughts had been in his own mind about this and the other major Departments. I believe that at the time it was right, in the circumstances of the energy supply situation, that the Department of Trade and Industry should have been created.

But the creation now of the new Department of Energy will enable the Secretary of State for Energy and his colleagues to concentrate on the development of the coal industry, on nuclear power and on our offshore oil and gas resources at home, as well as on those tasks of working together with other oil-consuming countries and with the oil-producing countries on the international aspects of the energy problem. It will also make it possible for the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and his colleagues to concentrate more of their attention upon the implications of energy developments for British industry and on the other major tasks facing the Department, in our overseas trade negotiations, export promotion, industrial development and regional policy, prices, and the considerable burden of legislation on consumer credit and company law reform now before Parliament.

I return to the question of the three-day week and the crisis mentioned by Mr. Gormley, because the three-day week cannot be attributed to the balance of payments position. That demands, as I think everyone would agree, a full working week, maximum production and a continuation of the steady rise in productivity and of the rapid increase in exports over the last year. The three-day week cannot be laid at the door of an economic strategy for growth, which has brought substantial benefits to the people of this country in terms of a real improvement in personal standards of living.

Mr. Russell Kerr (Feltham)

There has been no improvement.

The Prime Minister

Then the hon. Gentleman is in complete disagreement with all the leaders of the TUC who have been taking part in the discussions we have had and who have constantly pressed for and supported a policy of expansion.

The measures we have taken were forced on us by the facts of coal production that I have described. No one—and this was made abundantly plain in the NEDC meeting—the Government, the TUC or the CBI, can possibly welcome the circumstances which bring about a three-day week. We have not got it by choice ; we have got it out of necessity. The Government have not deliberately precipitated the crisis. We have always been willing, indeed anxious, to consult and to take account wherever possible of the views of both sides of industry.

Mr. Kerr

Why did not the Government consult the TUC?

The Prime Minister

I am quite prepared to deal with that question. As I explained to the NEDC, on the question of the introduction of the three-day week—which is the responsibility of the Government and which they fully accept—there was deliberately no discussion with the TUC members who saw my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment the night before it was announced, because the Government did not wish to lay themselves open to accusations from any quarter that they had discussed the matter with the TUC before the meeting of the NUM at which there was to be a further attempt by Mr. Gormley—he having made it first after my meeting—to persuade the members of his executive to go to the ballot. We were not prepared to have the accusation made that we were discussing the three-day week with the TUC before the immediate meeting of the NUM.

I wish to deal with the record of the Government in consultation and in what have been the results of that consultation. [Interruption.] I understand, from the Press at any rate, that the nation is expecting the House to discuss this grave situation in a serious way. I certainly, as Prime Minister, propose to do so.

Mr. Skinner

When?

The Prime Minister

I turn now to the question of the record of consultation by the Government because of the accusation which is frequently made—I do not wish to enter into personalities, but it is frequently made—that the Government are seeking confrontation. Far from adopting a policy of confrontation, we have now conducted for more than 18 months the longest, the most detailed and the most far-reaching set of talks in the history of relations between the TUC, the CBI and any Government. Indeed, there has been some criticism in the House of the fact that the Government have taken part in these talks and have engaged in consultation of the fullest kind about the management of the national economy.

Over the last 18 months we have had several objectives in these talks. We wanted to establish once and for all a reasonable basis for discussing common problems. I pledged myself to the nation to do this after the miners’ strike of 1972. It was then welcomed by the TUC and by the employers. We wanted to create a reasonable framework within which wage settlements could be negotiated. We wanted to develop the means whereby the Government, the TUC and the CBI together might review the working of our economy and our progress and discuss what further was necessary to achieve our objectives. Above all, we wanted to get away from the bludgeons of economic power and the blunt weapon of confrontation.

Mr. Kerr

After the Industrial Relations Act?

The Prime Minister

The overriding objective, recognised by all three parties to the talks, was to move away from the blind and indiscriminate use of economic power and to establish a system of wage settlements based on reason. That was the spirit in which we as a Government embarked on the discussions. During the summer and autumn of 1972, we held 11 meetings on a tripartite basis with the TUC and the CBI.

That was the spirit in which we continued the discussions in January and February last year about stage 2 and throughout the summer and autumn before the introduction of stage 3. I presided over more than 33 hours of talks with those concerned. During these talks there was never any suggestion of confrontation from any party to the talks. No one desired that. We were all concerned to maintain the expansion of the economy. The TUC and the CBI recognised that a price for this would have to be paid in the balance of payments, but both fully accepted it and for this reason welcomed the floating of the pound. We were all determined to do everything possible to ensure that our exports had every opportunity of increasing so that our standard of living could rise and so that we could improve the position of the lower paid, the pensioners and others who most needed help.

Those were our agreed objectives then and they remain our agreed objectives today. They are the objectives of the Government. We all recognised that we could not achieve all the improvements we wanted at once but that we could make progress by agreement in an orderly way and reach our objectives more quickly by so doing.

We did not achieve all that we had hoped in 1972. In the absence of voluntary agreement we were forced to take statutory powers. Nor, in the discussions in 1973, were we able to move forward from a statutory policy to an agreed voluntary basis for dealing with prices and incomes. But in these last 18 months a great deal has been achieved and we have deliberately carried through measures to meet as many as possible of the policies on which agreement was reached between the TUC, the CBI and the Government.

In fairness to all three parties to the talks, these achievements, I believe, need restating. By October last year we were making substantial progress towards the achievement of our joint objectives. The economy was expanding. Unemployment was down to under 500,000 and was still falling. Manufacturing output was up by 8 per cent. on a year before, and industrial production was up by almost 7 per cent.

In the export markets, we could sell our products more competitively than any of our neighbours. In the first half of 1973, the growth in volume of our exports was 24 per cent. at an annual rate, compared with a world growth of 17 per cent. to 19 per cent. In the same period the growth in volume of our imports was 18 per cent. at an annual rate, as compared with 24 per cent. of the growth of volume of our exports.

We were beginning to achieve the necessary rate of investment—

Mr. Michael Meacher (Oldham, West) rose—

The Prime Minister

I should say to the hon. Gentleman that, in fairness to all those who have done the work in industry, these figures should be stated. Surveys showed that 1974 would be the highest growth year for investment for more than a decade. Personal standards of living had grown by nearly 6 per cent. in 1972—faster than in any of the previous 20 years. The improvement in the first half of 1973 over the second half of 1972 was 3¼ per cent.
We were also agreed that an essential part of the strategy should be to provide for the lower paid, particularly the pensioners, and again we have acted positively in this.

Mr. Kerr

Dishonest government.

The Prime Minister

We have paid particular attention, as the TUC urged, to the problems of the lower paid. Under stage 2 the wages limit of £1 plus 4 per cent. and the provisions for equal pay, longer holidays and shorter hours were all particularly designed to assist the lower paid.

We continued all this in stage 3. In addition we provided for negotiators the alternative pay limit of £2.25 to help the lower paid. For the pensioners we have provided a secure future by ensuring that pensions should be uprated annually. Our record in this is second to none. Pensions have risen by 55 per cent. since 1970, which is far more than the increase in prices over the same period, and this does not include the £10 bonus which the pensioners have received for the last two Christmases.

Mr. Meacher rose——

The Prime Minister

I am giving the House these details again because it is essential that the House and the country should recognise the background to the negotiations now taking place under stage 3 of the code approved by Parliament. It is absolutely basic to the present industrial situation.

At the same time, all of us—the Government, the TUC and the CBI—recognised throughout our discussions that the reduction of inflation was a prime objective. I repeat that all of us would have preferred to find a way of achieving this voluntarily, but we should in no way underestimate the success of stages 1 and 2 of the incomes policy, for which I have paid tribute to both employers and unions.

Most of us—[Interruption.] I understand that the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) does not like hearing the facts of life. This is a grave situation—

Mr. Michael English (Nottingham, West) rose—

The Prime Minister

This is a grave situation—

Mr. English

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way? [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. The right hon. Gentleman obviously is not giving way.

The Prime Minister

—a grave situation, in which the nation—[Interruption.]

Mr. English rose—

The Prime Minister

I think that the nation will note the behaviour of the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues.

A prime objective of these talks has throughout been to combat inflation. I repeat that no one should underestimate the success, with the co-operation of employers and unions, of stages 1 and 2. Most of us would have settled for a price inflation of 3 per cent. or 4 per cent. a year, and that is what we would have had, thanks to the vast growth of the economy and the restraint of employers and unions, but for the rapid and massive rise in world prices of foodstuffs and raw materials. [HON. MEMBERS: “Ah.”] Again, hon. Members are sceptical. Let me give them the figures, from the Economist. The world prices of commodities have risen by no less than 119 per cent. and the world price of food by 113 per cent. Against that background, I should have thought that both employers and unions can count it a substantial achievement to hold the increase in domestic prices to under 10 per cent

The effect of our counter-inflationary policy has been to ensure that we have been able to hold down domestic costs better than most other industrial countries. We have averted the danger of piling a substantial domestic inflation on top of inflation produced by world prices.

Perhaps I may quote the new General Secretary of the TUC. He has emphasised that In the long term, it is still true that the solution to our problems lies in economic growth, it lies in continuing expansion and it lies in continuing investment. That is still the Government’s view, and it makes it absolutely imperative that this country should continue the battle against wage-cost inflation.

Indeed, the large increase in prices that we shall have to pay for oil makes it more important to continue with expansion and not less important—

Mr. Skinner

Your own party does not believe you.

The Prime Minister

But, of course, the fruits of this expansion will have to go in a greater degree to pay for the cost of that oil instead of going to improve our standard of living. Those are the hard facts of the present situation.

In the present circumstances, therefore, I believe that, far from being accused of confrontation, the Government are entitled to ask for a positive response from the trade union movement as a whole for what we have achieved in reply to the points which they, with employers, have put to us. They have benefited from a policy of growth which they demanded and which they fully supported. They have benefited from a policy which brought unemployment below 500,000, which filled order books, which provided a high level of production, improved standards of living and brought over the last year a substantial measure of industrial peace.

In stage 3 itself, the Government have gone as far as possible to meet the points put to us in our discussions with the TUC and the CBI. They asked for a greater flexibility for negotiators. How often we hear at this moment that there must be flexibility. Well, let those who ask for that consider the immense amount of flexibility in the stage 3 negotiations which has been used, rightly used, taken advantage of fully and accepted, by so many negotiators who have already completed their negotiations.

Flexibility has been built into the code—[Interruption.] I am sorry, but in this serious situation, Labour Members will not shout me down, however much they may wish to do so. The flexibility has been introduced into the code in the 1 per cent. flexibility margin, in the provision for hours and holidays and, in particular, in the provision for unsocial hours and in the choice of pay limits. The TUC and the employers asked for the opportunity to negotiate efficiency agreements. These opportunities are included in the code and are being used.

I do not intend to speak in detail of the miners’ pay claim. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment is discussing it with the NUM executive this afternoon and he will be taking part in the debate tomorrow. There are certain things in general about it which I wish to say. All the provisions of stage 3 are available to the miners for negotiation. The offer to the miners includes payment for unsocial hours. I am told that there are different arrangements about shifts in mining from manufacturing industry. [Interruption.]

Hon. Gentlemen are sceptical. It was Mr. Jack Jones who raised the matter in the National Economic Development Council. Of course, the miners have been offered an arrangement specifically to deal with the night shifts. If they so wish they can negotiate on these matters. What cannot be done is to deal with all the problems at once on a scale far greater than that already dealt with within the code.

In addition to the basic rate there is the flexibility allowance which the miners have chosen to use to extend their holiday arrangements. That is entirely up to them and is a perfectly fair arrangement for them to ask for. There are special arrangements for unsocial hours which they have opted to use for the night shift. There are bigger lump sums on retirement. All of these are part of the flexibility arrangements, in addition to the basic rate, which have been offered to the miners in the negotiations.

It can be summed up in this way. The offer made to the NUM represents the best offer made to its members in the whole history of negotiations. Even without a 3½ per cent. efficiency increase the offer would give 25 per cent. of miners £6.30p extra a week, 50 per cent. of miners more than £4.75p a week and 75 per cent. of miners more than £3.30p a week. This offer means that average earnings for some underground craftsmen would rise to £55 a week, for some power loaders to £51 a week and for surface men, grade 2, to about £39 a week. All this is before account is taken of the efficiency deal which is available for negotiation between the union and the National Coal Board.

When I saw the NUM on 28th November I discussed all of these details with it. I said to it, and I emphasise this, that if it accepted a stage 3 settlement and resumed normal production the Government would be ready immediately thereafter to consider with both sides of the industry the miners’ pay arrangements in the context of the longer-term future for the industry.

Mr. Skinner rose—

The Prime Minister

Perhaps if the hon. Gentleman were to listen to the offer which has been made.

Mr. Skinner

Why will not the right hon. Gentleman give way?

The Prime Minister

If the hon. Gentleman listened to what I have to say, I might be more willing to give way.

As this point has recently been raised in the Press by responsible commentators it is right that they should have the answer to it. The Secretary of State for Employment repeated this to the leaders of the NUM on 20th December and will repeat it to the full executive of the NUM today.

There are some, including the Leader of the Opposition, who say that we should breach stage 3 and give the miners a better offer. For the Government to do that would be to break faith with millions of workers who have already settled under stage 3. I should like to give the House some figures. By the end of 1973 well over 550 settlements covering 4 million workers had been notified to the Pay Board. This includes over 1 million local authority manual workers, 250,000 National Health Service ancillary workers, over 300,000 agricultural workers and another 500,000 workers covered by various wages councils.

It also includes more than 1½ million workers who have taken advantage of the provisions in stage 3 to help the lower paid. Up to the end of December no major group of workers had failed to reach a settlement within stage 3 by the due date. That is an acceptance of stage 3 by nearly 4 million workers in nearly 550 settlements. I suggest that there is no evidence there of 4 million workers considering this as a confrontation with the Government.

The offer made to the miners within stage 3 gives an average increase of between 13 per cent. and 16 per cent., with the additional efficiency payments. The average size of the settlements agreed in stage 3, of which I have given details, is considerably lower than the 13 per cent. offered to the miners, which excludes the offer of the efficiency agreement of 3½ per cent.

While these agreements in stage 3 were being made we have been able, as a result of the Pay Board report on anomalies, to sort out a large number of anomalies and reach agreement. These were anomalies which arose as a result of stages 1 and 2. I would have thought that the House would accept that to sort out those anomalies by agreement with the unions and to have 550 settlements covering 4 million workers under stage 3 is no mean achievement and is due to the work of employers and unions within the framework of the code approved by Parliament.

Mrs. Barbara Castle (Blackburn)

If the Pay Board report on relativities, which I understand is due out shortly, makes out a case for special cases to receive special payment, are the Government prepared to amend the pay code immediately?

The Prime Minister

That is a perfectly fair question for the right hon. Lady to raise and I hope that she will give the Government credit for having asked the Pay Board not only to deal with anomalies within stages 1 and 2 but also to deal with the much deeper question of relativities in industry. We have given an undertaking that immediately the report is published we will consult with the TUC and the CBI to take action upon it. We cannot give a clearer or firmer undertaking than that. We immediately entered into discussions with the CBI and TUC about the anomalies report and will do the same about the report on relativities when it reaches us from the Pay Board. We asked for it to come to us by 31st December. It is no fault of the Government’s that it has not reached us. On the other hand, we recognise the complexities of this matter and the details which the Pay Board has to consider in all the representations which have been made to it.

I suggest, therefore, that far from this being a confrontation between the Government and the unions, exactly the reverse is the case—that we have sought their assistance in consultation and that, under stage 3, 4 million workers have reached a settlement and many of the anomalies have now been dealt with and peacefully settled.

I believe, therefore, that we should keep faith with those who have accepted the code approved by Parliament and who, therefore, expected that the Government would ensure that the remaining settlements under stage 3 were fully in accordance with it. That, I believe, is an honourable position for the Government to take up.

Mr. Stanley Orme (Salford, West)

Does the Prime Minister say, therefore, that the TUC is in favour of stage 3? Is he not aware—he has been told by the TUC—that the TUC is completely opposed to it and that many of the trade unions that have made agreements have been forced to do so by the Government’s policies? While the Prime Minister is talking about stage 3, will he say whether the Glasgow firemen’s settlement comes within its terms?

The Prime Minister

On the last part of the hon. Gentleman’s question, as he knows that is being considered by the Pay Board, in the way in which the other 550 settlements have been considered. I cannot agree with the hon. Gentleman that the Government have been able to force anyone to reach a decision in this matter ; far from it. These are voluntarily negotiated agreements. [Interruption.] Let me deal with the hon. Gentleman’s first point. I have never disguised for one moment that both employers and trade unionists would prefer to have voluntary collective bargaining, provided that they could be assured that there would not be inflationary leapfrogging, and in none of these discussions has any way been shown how that can be avoided. It was, therefore, the responsibility of the Government to carry through stage 3.

Therefore, the objectives have not changed. We all want to reduce the rate of increase in prices which comes from wage costs, and that is the objective of stage 3. We all want, once the immediate emergency is behind us, to resume the expansion of the economy which we were able to achieve in 1973. We shall do our utmost as a Government to ensure that supplies of oil do not hinder us in this objective.

These objectives are agreed between employers, unions and the Government. The life of every man, woman, and child in this country will be better if we can realise those objectives. I say again to the House and to the country ; does not the best hope of doing so lie in our sitting down together, as we have done over the past 18 months, to talk to each other about these objectives—the Government, the CBI and the TUC?

Mr. Kerr

Repeal the Industrial Relations Act.

The Prime Minister

I have repeatedly made plain to those who have taken part in talks with us that we shall fully consider any proposals for amendments to the Industrial Relations Act. I repeat that no proposals have been made to us at these talks, by either the employers or the unions.

I strongly believe—I repeat it—that it is only through reason, through reasoned argument and reasoned agreement, that, as a nation, we can progress. This does not mean that trade unions and other groups in our society are asked to neglect their own interests ; far from it. Again, in these talks all have always realised that. It does mean that they are asked to take the longer-term view of their own interests—

Mr. Skinner

Jam tomorrow.

The Prime Minister

—to consider their interests in the context of the needs and the interests of the rest of the community.

If we try to achieve sectional interests by fighting each other we fail in our sectional objectives and we end by destroying this country. Surely we should follow the alternative course—a course of reason and, indeed, of moderation.

We should be trying to marry our sectional objectives in policies and programmes which serve the interests of the community as a whole. That was the spirit in which the Government embarked upon the tripartite talks in 1972. My colleagues and I are ready at any time to resume discussions with the CBI and the TUC, together or separately, in that same spirit ; not to try to score debating points, not to exchange recriminations about the past—for we have, none of us, done any of this in the tripartite and bipartite talks that we have had so far—but to try together to work out a programme which may not immediately meet all the desires of any of us but which will provide a framework within which we can meet our agreed objectives for the country and make orderly progress with our separate aspirations, progress which is not at the expense of other people but which takes account of the needs and aspirations of the ordinary people of this country—consumers, housewives and pensioners—to go about their lives in order and stability.

There is to be a special congress of trade union leaders next week. I invite them at their meeting to take up this offer which I am making today here in Parliament, to come together with the Government and the representatives of management, not in a spirit of confrontation and suspicion—[Interruption.] I am sorry that Opposition Members should reveal their complete ignorance of the attitude of the trade union leaders who attended the No. 10 talks and the Chequers talks.

I invite the trade union leaders now to come together with the Government and the representatives of management, not in a spirit of confrontation and suspicion, but in a spirit of constructiveness, of moderation and of reason. It is not too late for reason to prevail. It is not too late to discuss and settle all these matters within the framework which Parliament has approved. It is not too late to look to the future and to plot our course together. Indeed, it is in the interests of the whole nation that we should do so, and do so as rapidly as possible.