Prescott attempts to pacify unions


THE deputy leader of the Labour Party, Mr John Prescott, attempted to pacify the unions yesterday by stressing that they would be involved in talks over inflation busting pay awards despite the party's commitment to curb public spending.

Although Mr Prescott insisted Labour's pledge remained intact, he said that the recommendations by the pay review bodies for nurses, teachers and doctors of an average 3.5 per cent rise would be examined in detail by the Shadow Chancellor, Mr Gordon Brown.

"We will have to wait and see what the award is going to come out at. You have to take into account Gordon's commitments, which will be met. We have to finance things out of existing public spending levels and we are absolutely concerned about how you fund the crisis in our public sector borrowing, which is £26 billion. We will talk to the trade unions, as we obviously would," he added.

Last week the trade union movement accused the Labour Party of "playing party politics with people's lives" after Mr Brown announced he would be adhering to the Conservative Party's tough stance on inflation busting pay increases. Union leaders warned that the new incoming government could face a summer of discontent over the issue if the awards were not met in full.

In the past Labour has always argued that the British government should meet the pay review bodies' recommendations in full. The Cabinet is due to discuss the issue on Thursday, and it is understood it plans to stagger the increases, which will mean the new incoming government will still have to finance the awards.

The Shadow Foreign Secretary Mr Robin Cook, also outlined yesterday Labour's stance on another controversial issue, Europe. He suggested that a new Labour government might use Britain's presidency of the EU in 1998 to create an alliance" of countries opposed to the speed of integration proposed by France and Germany.

"What, of course is required, if you want to provide any different kind of vision for the future of Europe is for Britain, as the other third major power within the European Union, to be taken seriously as a full player and as somebody who could possibly articulate and lead the concerns of other nation states," he said.

Earlier Sir George Gardiner, the Euro sceptic Tory MP who has been deselected by his Reigate constituency, announced he expected to be reselected as the official Conservative candidate for the general election.

However, Sir George indicated that if he was not reselected then he might stand as an independent candidate.

In a statement, Sir George warned that the "battle for Reigate" was not over and that he was still seeking legal advice on the validity of the constituency's decision.

Reigate Conservative Association voted to deselect Sir George last Thursday after he described the British Prime Minister, Mr John Major, as a "ventriloquist's dummy", controlled by the pro European Chancellor, Mr Ken Clarke.