§ 3.34 p.m.
§ The Chairman
Before we commence the proceedings, I should explain that there is a misprint in the Amendment Paper. It is in the part of the Table on page 50 of the Amendment Paper headed "Proceedings". There is a reference there toClause 2—Amendments before subsection (1)".It should read "subsection (2)" I apologise for the error.
§ Mr. Anthony Wedgwood Benn (Bristol, South-East)
I beg to move Amendment No. 49, in page 1, line 25, at end insert:'(2) Transactions effected by such persons shall be on the basis of a quality of product of the same description as before 6th November 1972; and shall be priced on a unit price basis '
No. 21, in page 1. line 23, after 'description', insert:
'(including, in particular, the same volume, measure and quantity)'
No. 73, in page 1, line 25, at end insert:
'save where the charge includes a temporary discount on the usual charge'.
§ No. 48, in page 2, line 16, after ' goods ' insert ' including all foods '.
No. 57, in page 2, line 29. at end insert:
'and the person paying the price or charge shall be entitled to recover the amount representing any increase over the amounts charged before the said date unless he is himself liable to punishment by reason of his having aided, abetted, counselled or procured an offence committed under this Act by the other party to the transaction'
No. 47, in page 2, line 36, at end add:
' (8) There shall be published and made available for inspection all prices or charges to which this section has been applied '
No. 17, in Clause 5, page 3, line 32, at end insert:
'and any sum in excess of the price of goods or land on or before 6th November 1972 shall where practicable be ordered to be reimbursed to the purchaser or purchasers or, where such purchaser or purchasers cannot be identified, shall be forfeit to Her Majesty's Government'.
No. 94, in Clause 8, page 6, line 13, at end insert:
'"transactions of the same description" includes goods of the same size, weight, contents, and quality '.
§ Mr. John Farr (Harborough)
On a point of order. I should like to ask you, Sir Robert, for some clarification on Amendment No. 12—in page 2, line 21, after ' work ' insert:'except agricultural work under a contract made in accordance with a national agreement completed before 7th November 1972'.It has been put on the list of selection in the "No" Lobby for discussion tonight after seven o'clock with Amendment No. 55 and 11 others. Yet it has been ringed in blue on that list and transferred, as indicated by an arrow, to tomorrow afternoon's proceedings. Will you, Sir Robert, make it clear whether Amendment No. 12 is to be discussed and, if necessary, voted upon today with Amendment No. 55 or tomorrow?
§ The Chairman
I must make another apology. The matter should not appear as it does on the list exhibited at the door. The amendment will be taken for Division in its proper turn after Amendment No. 10 tomorrow.
§ Mr. Joel Barnett (Heywood and Royton)
Further to that point of order. There is some difficulty about what you have said, Sir Robert, because if the amendment is left until tomorrow the guillotine will fall at seven o'clock and there will be no vote on it. Will you be prepared to accept a manuscript amendment in exactly the same wording as Amendment No. 12 to line 2 of subsection (2)? That, I believe, would meet the point which the hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) has made.
§ The Chairman
The Chair always tries to meet hon. Members' requests as 423 far as possible. I should like a little time to consider what the hon. Gentleman said. If he will see me a little later, I will let him know.
§ Mr. Benn
We had hoped, Sir Robert, that Amendment No. 50 would be taken with the amendments we are about to discuss—in page 2, line 36, at end add:'(8) Price controls imposed under this section shall have effect notwithstanding the provisions of the European Communities Act 1972, or orders, regulations or directives made under or by the authority of the same'.The Bill provides for the control of certain prices, and that is not compatible with the European Communities Act. I asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry at Question Time on Monday whether he would safeguard the Government's position about steel prices in respect of Community rules. He gave me a positive assurance which Amendment No. 50 embodies. I believe that the amendment is very relevant to the amendments you have called.
§ The Chairman
I do not think the right hon. Gentleman will find the answer to his point very satisfactory. I have not selected Amendment No. 50. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, I cannot say why I do not select amendments.
§ Mr. Benn
Without challenging your ruling, Sir Robert, may I ask whether it is possible for you to reconsider the position in the light of the argument which I adduced, namely, that Amendment No. 50 is an integral part of the arguments we are about to discuss? In addition, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry on Monday gave a specific reference which would lead him to support the amendment were it to be discussed.
§ The Chairman
I will look into the matter, but I am sure the right hon. Gentleman understands that if I decide that I cannot include the amendment, that will be the end of it.
§ Sir David Renton (Huntingdonshire)
Further to the point of order raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr). You made it clear. Sir Robert, that there would be a Division on Amendment No. 12 tomorrow after Amendment No. 10 had been discussed. However, I do not think you made it clear whether that affects the 424 position as it emerges from the provisional list of selection, namely, that Amendment No. 12 will be discussed this evening with Amendment No. 5 and many others.
§ The Chairman
I am able to set the right hon. and learned Gentleman's mind at rest. The amendment can be so discussed.
§ Mr. J. T. Price (Westhoughton)
On a point of order. It arises from the explanation and very generous apology you have tendered, Sir Robert, and from the protests on both sides of the Committee about the way in which the business is being conducted. An intolerable burden has been placed on the officials of the House who have to prepare the Notice Paper, and we are faced with a situation—
§ The Chairman
Order. 1 am sorry, but I cannot take that kind of submission from the hon. Gentleman. It is not within my province to deal with such matters He must take them up as he thinks best with the Leader of the House. It is not for me to express an opinion on whether the Government are bowling a fast ball
§ Mr. J. T. Price
I am not seeking to make any criticism. Sir Robert. You have a very difficult task to perform. What I am submitting to you is that, being faced, as we are, with this intolerable muddle, you ought to show great flexibility in accepting, if necessary, manuscript amendments to compensate for the situation in which we find ourselves.
§ Mr. Pardoe
I am not quite sure, Sir Robert, whether it is the right moment to raise the point about a separate vote on Amendment 82, in page 2, line 5, at end insert:This subsection shall not apply to remuneration paid to any employee whose average weekly remuneration during the 13 weeks before 6th November 1972 fell below £20'.It is among those you have listed to be taken with Amendment No. 55, in page 2, line 1, leave out subsection (2). I request that we should have a separate vote on Amendment No. 82, the reason being that Amendment No. 55, in the view of those who support the idea of the freeze, would be virtually a wrecking amendment since it cuts out subsection (2), which is about the whole issue of whether incomes should be frozen, whereas Amendment No. 82 is on the issue whether incomes of the lower paid should be frozen. It would be helpful if we could have a separate vote on that.
§ Mr. Charles Loughlin (Gloucestershire, West)
On a point of order. In the event of there being a separate vote on Amendment 82, may I ask you, Sir Robert, to consider a separate vote on Amendment No. 106, in page 2, line 5, at end insert:'This subsection shall not apply to remuneration paid to an employee whose wages were £20 per week or less prior to 7th November 1972'.That also deals with the lower-paid workers.
§ The Chairman
I am prepared to consider these requests for these separate votes, of course, but I am sure that the whole Committee, and particularly the official Opposition, will realise that Divisions take time out of the time they have for discussing the points they want to discuss. I do not want to fall between two stools of that kind. However, I will give all these submissions my careful consideration.
§ Mr. Benn
The amendments which, Sir Robert, you have selected to be taken together are amendments which allow us to discuss in one piece many of the prices aspects of the Bill. Every amendment put forward by the Opposition to subsection (1) of this clause with which we 426 are now concerned seeks to be constructive, to strengthen price control and to make it effective to check inflation most immediately and with the maximum benefit to the shopper and the housewife. Whereas when we have economic discussions about inflation there is a great difference of opinion between the experts as to what exactly is the connection between levels of incomes and consequential levels of prices, there is here a much simpler argument to which we want to address ourselves this afternoon, when we come to the link that exists between prices paid by the housewife and the shopper, and the rents paid, which we shall come to later, and the wages claims put in to compensate for these higher prices the argument is a lot simpler. If this Bill consisted solely of subsection (1) of this clause and the enforcement provisions associated with it. we should be supporting the Bill.
The Bill is going through under the guillotine, although this from a Government committed in their election campaign to immediate action against prices. The reason we are now having a guillotine two and a half years later is that during the intervening period the measures taken by the Government, far from holding prices, have been deliberately designed to allow price rises to take place. What we are guillotining, as the hon. Member for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen) knows better than any other, are the convictions and the pledges and the philosophy offered by the present Government when they were elected to power. That is where the guillotine has dropped. The effect of it, in a parliamentary sense, is only to curtail our discussion of the change of front which he identified and was honest enough to speak about in this Chamber.
Of course, all these discussions which took place with the trade unions in the most adverse circumstances in the weeks preceding the final breakdown could and should have taken place during the two and a half years the Government have been in power. Had there been sufficient time for this matter to be looked at in this way, there is little doubt that the prospects of reaching agreement would have been greater. We have in fact been faced during this period with the abandonment of the Land Commission, the introduction of higher rents, the 427 abolition of the Prices and Incomes Board, the abolition of the Consumer Council, all of which have involved the abandonment of the defences of the consumer, and we have, therefore, this crisis which confronts us.
I do not want to weary the Committee with many figures, but it is evident, on even the most cursory examination of the figures which are available, that the rate of inflation in terms of the Retail Price Index is at an all-time high, greatly exceeding that at any period during which the last Government were in charge of affairs. If the Committee looks forward into 1973 it may see that import prices are likely to rise again following the effective devaluation of the £, in the guise of the float, and further rises will come later if the £ is fixed at an even lower level to conform to Community requirements, in addition to the value added tax, food price increases associated with entry into the Common Market, and rents, land and housing, which we shall be discussing.
It is no wonder that the TUC consistently throughout the discussions which it had with the Government should have laid the greatest emphasis on the prices side. I quote from the TUC statement of 1st November. It states plainly—and this is what we are discussing—The critical problem is that if, following the floating of the £ and following accession to the EEC, food prices were to rise by a figure of, for example, 10 per cent. in the next 12 months, it would be quite impossible to obtain the support of workpeople for a policy of holding wages and salaries at a predetermined figure.There have been many discussions in this Chamber and elsewhere about costs and rising prices, and in a sea of complexity it is very nice to come across a touch of simplicity, and that is to be found in the Financial Times, in an article by Mr. Wood, Director of the Sheffield Centre of Productivity. I shall not quote figures, but let me read what he said:Arguments about the causes and cures of inflation have occupied many of the man hours of economists, businessmen, politicians, and, in recent years, shop floor workers and housewives. Among the myriad theories, one simple explanation appears to have been overlooked Prices rise because it is the easiest way for managers to increase profits".That is the explanation which he offers to his readers. It is certainly true, if we 428 compare it to the alternative strategies which a firm may adopt to try to deal with its profits needs—as compared with cutting its own costs and increasing its own sales promotion—that rising prices are the quickest way to higher profits.
§ Mr. Julian Ridsdale (Harwich)
Is it not a fact that profits in relation to gross national product have dramatically fallen over the last few years?
§ Mr. Benn
If the hon. Member will allow me to proceed with my speech I shall put forward arguments which suggest slightly contrary conclusions.
If we look at the 50 biggest companies in Europe, with the highest profits, comparing 1971 over 1970, we find that 36 of them are British. I am talking about the big companies. Looking at the share performances of 1971 over 1970, and comparing Britain with Common Market countries, we find that the British figure stands highest of all. It is against this background that the question of the whole efficacy of price control has to be considered by the Committee on this and other amendments.
If we leave aside the omissions of fresh food, to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) will be referring, and rents and houses, to which we shall be coming tomorrow, the question arises immediately, how can the ordinary shopper cope with the freeze as presented in its unamended form in this clause? There are about 227,000 retail food outlets and a great number of other shops as well. Thousands of items are involved and every day millions of people engage in the shopping exercise. If the Committee is disposed to believe what the Prime Minister says, we can trust the housewife to deal with this problem herself. That is a touching expression of faith in a group of people to whom the Prime Minister made a powerful appeal in the last election campaign. But if one looks not at the Prime Minister's speeches but at what the Government have said in their advice to the public, a totally different conclusion emerges.
The Department of Trade and Industry has taken a number of whole page advertisements to inform people of their rights under the Bill. I am sure that they were identical, and I will quote from one:If you are buying: As a shopper any query you have should be discussed first with 429 your shopkeeper, but if you then want to bring any point on prices to the attention of the Government you can contact one of the offices listed below.There are millions of shoppers, probably more than 250,000 shops and thousands of items, and there are 11 telephone numbers to which the housewife can address her query if she has doubts about prices.
In trying to imagine the nature of the discussion between the shopkeeper and the housewife, one is, fortunately, guided again by the Department of Trade and Industry. The Department published in The Times on 11th November a little questionnaire for the benefit of those who want to know how the freeze will work:At what time did the prices standstill become effective? … at 3.30 p.m. on Monday 6th November.Is it illegal for manufacturers to put up prices now? No, but as soon as the Bill is law, manufacturers may be required to reverse price increases that cannot be justified.What is the meaning of "shopkeeper" in the days of supermarkets I should like to know. There is no shopkeeper. The shopper has to deal with a girl at the cash register as she is going out of the shop with her wire tray. If the shopper asks the girl, "Is it illegal to raise your prices?", the girl at the machine will say, "No, but I must tell you that we may have to reverse our prices later". What can the shopper do in circumstances like that?
§ Mr. Benn
I know that the hon. Lady is interested in this subject, and I respect her view. When I have finished this section of my speech I will gladly give way.
The questionnaire continues:Can a shopkeeper pass on higher prices of goods he buys for resale?Yes. But he may not increase his cash margin on any product line without approval.The housewife in the supermarket, I imagine, says to the girl at the cash register, "What is your cash margin? "The girl does not know, nor does the manager, and nor does the public. Nor will the Government let anyone know what is the cash margin. It is a fraud perpetrated upon the country to get a wage freeze carried through.
430 The next question is:A shopkeeper had a sale in his shop just before the standstill. Must he stick to these prices? No, he may go back to his normal prices and his normal cash margin.The housewife says, "I see your prices have gone up". The girl says, "We had a sale," to which the housewife replies, "Have your prices been increased above the pre-sale level?" The girl says, "I do not know". So the shopper, confident that the Prime Minister will support her, says, "But what about your cash margins?" The whole thing is an absolute fraud in the form in which it is presented. The questionnaire continues:If a shopkeeper had cut his price as a special offer or loss leader on an item, can he put his price back again?Yes, he can go back to his normal cash margin.Any query put to a shopkeeper can be answered by this official fuzz paid for by the Government propaganda machine.
§ Mrs. Sally Oppenheim
I do not want to upset the right hon. Gentleman's postulations, but he may be disappointed to hear that when this morning I challenged my local shopkeeper on charging 1p more this week than he did last week for a packet of Omo he apologised and credited me with 1p.
On what the right hon. Gentleman has just been saying, the Department of Trade and Industry has issued an instruction that if a shop is in the habit of making special offers, it cannot raise the price of those goods above the price at which they were sold as special offers.
§ Mr. Benn
The hon. Lady may be known to her shopkeeper and she may not have had to go through the cash margin question to get her 1p back. But if the hon. Lady is suggesting that, over the 90-day period and into the 150-day period, shoppers are in a position to protect themselves from rising prices in the simple way in which she has protected herself, she is, I have no doubt accidentally, misleading the public.
§ Mr. Arthur Lewis (West Ham, North)
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the people who count, the old-age pensioners, do not understand the difference between the new penny and the old penny?
§ Mr. Benn
Reference has been made by some trade union leaders to the 431 question of decimalisation. [An HON. MEMBER: "Carried through by the Labour Government."] It may be that the Act was carried through by the Labour Government, but the exploitation of decimalisation was carried through by the shopkeeper.
A political argument which the Government are trying to make dominant is that they represent the consumer and the trade unions represent the main threat to living standards of ordinary families. I invite the Committee to contrast the official information which I have just read with what has been said by trade union leader, Jack Jones, and to consider which is the more valuable:The TUC made the simple point that any ordinary housewife would make: that it is really the prices in the shops and the amount on the rent book that actually counts, and on these issues the Government would give no real guarantees.The claim that the Government represent the housewife against the threats of the trade unions is absolutely falsified by that presentation. He went on:There should be emergency legislation to enable weights and measures inspectors to prosecute retailers, middlemen and wholesalers who break the freeze. If this cannot be done, it will make a mockery of the price freeze. Employers will stop the wage increases but who will effectively stop the price increases?That was the argument between the TUC and the Government during the final phase of the Downing Street talks.
I come now to the question whether, if the Government are serious about a price freeze, they can possibly achieve it without proper consumer protection measures. The Consumer Council has been disbanded. Pressure for consumer protection over the last two and half years has been disregarded, as have questions of quality, standards, labelling and unit pricing. The hon. Member for Gloucester (Mrs. Sally Oppenheim), who got her 1p back, was cleverer than most. Had the shopkeeper said that there was a little more powder in the packet this week than there was last week the hon. Lady would not have known.
If he would not have tried it on with the hon. Lady, he would have tried it on with others. It is impossible for the ordinary shopper to distinguish between bottles of different sizes and to 432 know whether he is paying the same price for the same quantity from one week to another, from one shop to another and from one product to another. This issue has been ignored by the Government for two and a half years.
§ Mr. David Crouch (Canterbury)
The Committee is always impressed by the fervour with which the right hon. Gentleman attacks his problem. It was the Labour Government which introduced the Trade Descriptions Act—a very good Act it is too—but the Bill was supported and modified by the Government. Surely the right hon. Gentleman is not suggesting that the consumer has no protection under that Act against wrong labelling, misleading information and price increases?
§ 4.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Benn
No doubt many hon. Members heard the new Minister for Trade and Consumer Affairs on the radio on Sunday. In order to strengthen the recollection of the House, I brought his remarks along with me. He said that there were a lot of things which were either not fair or rigged, and people were not getting the information they were entitled to and were being cheated in various ways. That is the Minister who has been a Law Officer with some responsibility for enforcing the law and who now has been promoted to looking after the consumer. In the face of William Hardcastle he had to come a bit cleaner without the aid of "cheaper Omo" and some of the other issues which have worried housewives.
The Government have to face the fact that a large body of opinion has been built up—and it is all—party in character—since hon. Members of both parties have been associated with it-in trying to get people to see that the protection of the consumer against business, in its biggest sense, requires more safeguards than have been provided hitherto. High Street advice centres, pre-shopping advice, complaint procedures and policing must be rooted in the locality where the shopper lives and where the shopkeeper has to have some consideration for his local reputation.
I fully share the view of the TUC Economic Committee which, in a statement explaining why the talks were broken off, said:The legislation is at its weakest or nonexistent in precisely the key areas where 433 statutory control, as urged by the TUC, is much needed.Furthermore, I am not surprised by what The Guardian said under the heading "Freeze leaves City cosy". The item quoted one foreign exchange dealer as saying:It is wonderful, if the Government can get away with it.That is the nature of this Bill.
There is a great deal of experience from abroad which we can consider in terms of a scheme of this kind. There is the Dutch experience, the Finnish experience, there were attempts made in Ireland and in Sweden; and in the United States there is a form of consumer protection. It is ludicrous for the Government to come forward with this Bill, which is riddled with loopholes, covering only a tiny sector of the actual expenditure of a household, and to seek to use it as a peg on which to hang the wage freeze which they mean to make effective and as a result of which employers will be in a very much stronger position. This is the situation which faces the Committee today. I urge the Committee to support all those amendments which are before the Committee designed to strengthen the effectiveness of the price freeze.
I now turn to the nationalised industries. Here we have a further reminder of the extent of the change which has occurred in Government thinking in two and a half years. I go back to the classic statement of Government policy made by the present Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, for which he received a standing ovation at the Blackpool conference in 1970. He then said:Finally, I should like to say a word about the nationalised industries. That word is a watchword—disengagement … in the sense that Government must withdraw from this perpetual scrutiny and commentary on the managements concerned, a process which undermines authority and constitutes a permanent alibi for inadequate performance and represents a serious inhibition to recruitment and the development of efficient management.This is what was said by the present Chancellor of the Duchy who lies under the guillotine with this Bill for consistently, throughout the period he held office and now in his new co-ordinating 434 capacity, advocating policies 100 per cent. different from the policies which are now before us.
What have the Government done in terms of action? They have picked on the public sector, whether it be coal, steel or the railways, and have pushed them into a confrontation with the unions; and then, when the settlement has been reached, they hold down prices—so much so that if The Guardian is to be believed—and the Sunday Times has similar figures—it will mean that subsidies of about £1,000 million may be the price of Government policy of the nationalised industries.
This brings me to the special case of steel. It is well known that steel is one of the extremely difficult areas. We know the effect of Government policy on the steel industry—an industry which in 1971–72 made a loss of £65 million and which will probably make a greater loss later. The price of BSC steel is expected to be about 15 per cent. below the level prevailing in the Common Market in the middle of 1973. That is the first problem the industry must face.
Secondly, there are the basing point prices by which the EEC decide how prices should be fixed, and this relates to various points to which transport costs are added. If this policy is proceeded with it will still make the price of steel more expensive for some customers during the freeze.
The EEC rules about Government intervention are absolutely clear:If the action taken by that State is having harmful effects on the coal or steel undertakings within the jurisdiction of that State"—that is the freeze—the High Authority may authorise it to grant aid to these undertakings, the amount, conditions and duration of which shall be determined in agreement with the High Authority.In other words, there has to he agreement about what is to be done.
Secondly, it is provided in the Council directive of 22nd March, 1971, that any short-term measures which may be taken—and this is what the freeze Bill will do in a nation State—must be taken by agreement with the Council of Ministers andwhere appropriate, by proposals for decisions, directives, or recommendations, the Council shall adopt guidelines on short term economic 435 policy which the Community and each Member State are to follow…".This is the first confrontation between the economic policy of one member country, namely the United Kingdom—which until 1st January is a candidate member —and the Community itself on the key issue of steel prices.
How will the Government resolve it? They are amending the European Communities Act to get out of the difficulty. This is exactly what is done by the schedule. Throughout the summer months we were told that we could not make a single amendment to the European Communities legislation. Parliament was not allowed to make any alteration in the Committee or Report stages and nothing was to be allowed to alter that legislation. Is it now to be amended by any specific statutory instrument? Not at all. For all I know the Minister might be given power under a statutory instrument to make an order which could take precedence over a directive of the European Community. When a British firm, perhaps the Steel Corporation, appears before the British Courts for a breach of the Community law the judge no doubt will say, "I do not have to take any notice of the European Community law on this question because Schedule 4 amends the act."
This is why, Sir Robert, I had hoped that you would allow me to move my other amendment, but I think that I am able to refer to the schedule without running counter to your ruling. When on Monday I asked the Secretary of State for Trade and IndustryCan the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the provisions of the Schedule to the Counter-Inflation (Temporary Provisions) Bill provide security for the British Steel Corporation so that it could not be proceeded against in the European courts under Section 2 of the European Communities Act?",he replied:Yes, I will make sure of that." —[OFFICIAL REPORT. 13th November, 1972; Vol. 846, c. 24.]No Minister can make sure of anything in the Community, save by amending the European Communities Act. Therefore, we have now witnessed, almost by accident, the rebirth of parliamentary sovereignty. The Government appear to have broken the European Communities Act almost as quickly as they did when they 436 got into difficulties over other matters earlier in the year.
§ Mr. Ridley
Would the right hon. Gentleman at least get his right hon. Friend the Member for Stepney (Mr. Shore) to agree that the European Communities Act does not destroy the sovereignty of Parliament?
§ Mr. Benn
What I will do for the hon. Gentleman is to give him Clause 1 of the European Communities Bill as it could be amended:This Act and any provision made under the Act shall have effect notwithstanding any thing in any other Act or statutory provision passed or made before this Act.That is in anticipation of a Queen's Speech yet to come. I have no doubt that my right hon. Friend the Member for Stepney (Mr. Shore) will have drawn encouragement from the guidance of Cirencester and Tewkesbury—a very dangerous thing for many hon. Members in the past.
Not only has parliamentary sovereignty been reborn; the Government blew their own case out of the water in respect of their talks with the TUC when they said, "We cannot discuss this with you. It is political. It would involve amending legislation. We cannot discuss rents, taxation or anything else with you." But the schedule says:The appropriate Minister may by order provide that any Act passed before this Act, or any provision having effect under any such Act, which relates to prices, charges, remuneration, dividends or rents shall, while section 2 of this Act is in force, have effect subject to such exceptions, modifications or adaptations as may be specified in the order.The Government have taken the power to give the TUC everything that it might be able to persuade the Government to do in negotiation, which means that that aspect of the Government's case is destroyed as well.
Sometimes it is argued that the problem of inflation is a lack of confidence in the currency and that it is when men and women expect that the currency has lost its value that they will take decisions 437 which accelerate the rate of inflation. But I wonder whether it is lack of confidence in the currency so much as lack of confidence in the administration which has caused the present inflation.
The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, after his work in the Department of the Environment, has come to his new Department. I took the trouble to see what he said to the electors of Worcester who sent him to this House. He said:The last Conservative government kept all its promises, so will the next. We will replace Labour's restrictions with Conservative incentive. We reject compulsory wage restraint…To curb rising prices will be our first priority.The first Bill on industrial matters to which the right hon. Gentleman has put his name since issuing that to the people of Worcester is one which breaks every single pledge in that election address. No wonder right hon. and hon. Members opposite are concerned. It is not as if the problem were new. The General Election was fought on inflation and rising prices. But two and a half years later the new Minister for Trade and Consumer Affairs, justifying this Bill, says:It is designed to provide a breathing space for the definition of a rational approach to the problem of inflation …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 8th November, 1972; Vol. 845, c. 1130.]Over two and a half years after right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite were elected to cut prices, they ask for a "breathing space to define a rational approach" to the problem on which they made their basic appeal to the electorate.
It is confidence in the Government which is lacking. The Prime Minister said over his signature in the Conservative manifesto:…once a decision is made, once a policy is established, the Prime Minister and his colleagues should have the courage to stick to it. Nothing has done Britain more harm in the world than the endless backing and filling which we have seen in recent years.If we are to treat the problem seriously, we must understand that it is not just about wage claims or even prices, though we believe that this provision about prices is necessary and that it should be strengthened. It is the credibility of the Government which is at stake. It is in that that the British people no longer believe.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Mr. Peter Emery)
The problem of Committee stages on the Floor of the House is that frequently 438 amendments are put to one side in order that we may have major Second Reading speeches by different Opposition spokesmen in the course of debates. I must congratulate the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) for his performance today. He displayed a sense of brilliant debating comedy. He treated this matter too often as a joke—[Interruption.] The British people do not regard it as a joke.
Let me illustrate what I mean. I had no knowledge of what the right hon. Gentleman intended to say. To the great delight of many of his right hon. and hon. Friends he spoke about the questionnaire dealing with the price freeze which he suggested had been published by my Department. Let me point out that this was in fact a Press release which was issued in response to a number of demands from members of the Press about how the prices unit was working and the type of question that the unit was getting from the people using it. This seems to he a right and proper way for the Government to respond to requests for information coming from the Press.
§ 4.15 p.m.
§ Mr. John Silkin (Deptford)
Does the hon. Gentleman suggest that the question. naire which was issued as a Press release should be taken seriously? If he does, is not the argument of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) very much to the point?
§ Mr. Emery
It publishes facts about the type of question being asked of the prices unit. There is nothing to repudiate in that. It illustrates what the unit is dealing with and the concern that many people feel. It shows the task that the prices unit has been able to carry out.
The concept of the prices standstill as it affects the retail trades is now clear to the public. I believe that it is accepted 439 by a very large majority of the people to a much greater extent than the Opposition believe or would have the rest of the public believe. The concept is the voluntary application of the standstill by the individual trader. It is not the Government's intention to go in for price fixing or, in some strange way, to ensure that nationwide prices should prevail in every retail outlet from Harrods to the corner store, from the mobile shop to Petticoat Lane and from the supermarket to the village store. We do not believe that there can be a single price for every commodity wherever people shop.
My Department and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food are doing everything possible to elucidate the practical effect of the standstill when they are approached by individual inquirers. The special prices unit, which obviously was set up at fairly short notice, at times has had to meet heavy pressure during its first week of operation. It has responded efficiently to telephone demands from businesses and from members of the public. In the same way our regional offices have responded energetically and efficiently.
In setting up this system we have created our own market monitors with antennae stretching out through the telephone lines to anyone anywhere in the country—[Interruption.] It is not a laughing matter, as members of the Opposition seem to think.
Perhaps I might analyse the inquiries which have been dealt with.
§ Dr. J. Dickson Mabon (Greenock)
On a point of order. Although I accept that the hon. Gentleman wants to respond to Amendment No. 49, I cannot understand whether he is also replying to the other seven amendments grouped with it. We are limited to three and a half hours under the guillotine. Surely the hon. Gentleman should make only a brief speech now on Amendment No. 49, so that we can deploy our arguments on the other amendments, to which he can reply again later. I am complaining because I cannot understand the procedure. I should like some guidance
§ The Chairman
Order. I think that I have been lenient. I could have stopped the hon. Member for Greenock (Dr. Dickson Mabon) earlier. It is not part of 440 my job to dictate to the Under-Secretary of State how he should deal with his speech. All that I have to do is ensure that he remains in order. That is the end of my jurisdiction. I have taken the hon. Member for Greenock's point, but there is no more that I can do.
§ Mr. Emery
If the Opposition will allow me to get on with my speech, they will see the course which I intend to pursue. I have given way four times already. I intend to deal with a number of the amendments so that the main arguments can be put forward now. If I had entirely ignored the speech of the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East, which was made on Amendment No. 49, I could rightly have been accused of some rudeness, and that I want to avoid.
The situation of the prices unit is that both at the Department and at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, in the first week, there have been approximately 12,000 inquiries or telephone calls, both regionally and to the centre. About 60 per cent. of those inquiries have been made to the London centre. It is of particular interest to note that about 75 per cent. of those inquiries have been made by retailers who are trying to find out how the standstill is meant to apply. Retailers generally want to give their co-operation. That is a point which is frequently overlooked by the Opposition. That is the reaction which the prices unit has been able to bring about. Only about 25 per cent. of the inquiries have been complaints about prices.
§ Mr. Norman Buchan (Renfrew, West)
In the notorious document which has been quoted backwards and forwards this afternoon, there is reference to the terms of action. It appears that the unit will collate, assess and file, and do no more. Is that how it is treating the complaints?
§ Mr. Emery
I said, "No". The hon. Gentleman might listen. I said that before any action might be taken, we 441 must be able to investigate the position, and that cannot be done until the information has been collated.
Amendments Nos. 21 and 49 have one common purpose. They seek to ensure that the benefit to the consumer of the standstill cannot be eroded by changes of quality or quantity. Amendment No. 49 seeks to introduce into the standstill the power to require traders to adopt the practice of unit pricing. These two amendments look at the standstill from the consumer's point of view. Amendment No. 73 is concerned with the real problems which it may pose for the retailer, if the standstill is not applied with common sense.
Amendment No. 21 would elaborate the definition of the reference price. It seeks to secure that the transaction should be identical in "volume, measure and quantity." The more stringent the requirements to comparing like with like, the more difficult it will be for a standstill order to be evaded by minor changes in content or presentation.
I accept the point which those who are concerned with the amendment are likely to make. It is pertinent to the enforcement of a standstill but it is, I suggest, unnecessary since the Bill already recognises the need to define carefully the method by which prices are compared before the powers are used.
I draw the Committee's attention to paragraph 1(1) of the schedule, which deals with the contents of the orders and notices under Clause 2 which will apply to particular prices. The paragraph states:…may prescribe any method of comparing prices, charges…and so on. In this way, it will be possible to lay down principles of comparison which are suitably tailored to the circumstance with which the order or the notice is concerned. I suggest that will be more effective than an attempt to write some general provision into the Statute.
§ Mr. John Biffen (Oswestry)
This is a point of substance. The criteria which governed the prices and incomes legislation of yesteryear were normally written into the legislation as schedules. Are criteria to be issued which will indicate the way in which the Government will proceed in considering whether to make 442 an order? In what way will the House be informed of them?
§ Mr. Emery
Nobody need remind me of the schedues to the previous prices and incomes legislation. The Government's view is that on a standstill it would be wrong to try to define any criteria. Such definition took massive debate in previous legislation.
The power which the Government are taking is in the general form. I have indicated to the House that we are concerned not merely with quantity but with quality. The amendment is intended to ensure that the effect of the standstill should not be evaded by reducing the quality of the product whilst maintaining its price. I accept that this is a genuine problem. But where alleged changes in quality are used as a device for evasion, the powers which I have mentioned will enable us to deal with that sort of action. I should be reluctant to contemplate the sort of provision which is outlined in the amendment, which would take us back to the wartime situation of quality controls and what would be utility standards if we were to follow the amendment through.
Under the Bill a trader would not conform to any order applying Clause 2(1) to his trade if he maintained his price but debased the quality of the goods he sold. If the standstill is to achieve its objective, it is essential that it should not be applied in such a way as to clog up the normal channels of trade and restrict opportunities for innovation.
Further, Amendment No. 49 includes a totally new and, I suggest, incongruous ingredient in the provision about unit pricing. Whatever the merits of unit pricing, they raise much wider questions than any confined to enforcing the standstill. It would be impracticable to deal with the subject in an order designed for a different purpose.
Those who have studied unit pricing—many of my hon. Friends have done much to bring about an increase in knowledge of this subject—will realise only too well its immense complications and the Government's desire that any action we take should not bring back resale price maintenance by the back door. If unit pricing is to work, it must be carried through 443 at every retail outlet, not merely by manufacturers as recommended prices or, indeed, standardised prices.
The Committee may care to note that, as a matter of policy, it seems reasonable that we should not try to lead people to believe that we can take reforming action over unit prices by this provision alone.
§ Mr. Patrick Cormack (Cannock)
I accept what my hon. Friend says. May we take it that the Government are determined to introduce unit pricing at an early date?
§ Mr. Emery
The Government are most concerned about unit pricing and are investigating what action can be taken which would be reasonable and beneficial to the consumer.
As much of this matter deals specifically with the retail trade, I should like to pay specific tribute to the action taken by the retail trade during this period. Many people are suggesting that, given any opportunity, the retail trade will maximise prices and not give a darn for the consumer. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I hope that people outside this Committee will note the lack of concern being shown by the Opposition for the action taken by the retail trade. The way in which the retail trade has endeavoured to co-operate with the Government is something about which we should be most pleased and thankful. As an illustration of the type of co-operation that we want, I understand that one major retail outlet with many stores throughout the country has reduced prices which it had set in motion before the standstill was announced. Because these prices had not been standardised throughout its chain of stores, it withdrew them and retained the pre-standstill prices. That company has shown its willingness to co-operate by this action. After all, that is meaningful, if not to the Opposition, certainly to consumers generally throughout the country.
I suggest that the condemnation of the retailer that we have heard from the Opposition—[Interruption.] If hon. Gentlemen will allow me to make my speech in my own way, I may be able to proceed more quickly.
The inference to be drawn from the amendments and the import of the right 444 hon. Gentleman's speech is that the housewife cannot be trusted. The right hon. Gentleman may frown, but that is the implication. I believe the housewife is the right kind of person to trust in this matter. Not everybody is trying to break this standstill. The vast majority of people are trying to co-operate, because they wish to overcome inflation generally.
The concept that this is a fraud—a word repeated three or four times by the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East—indicates the Opposition's thinking on something which they tried and failed to do during their period in Government. Let it be remembered, when hon. Members are cheering from the Opposition benches, that not so long ago they were not just carrying through a standstill, but had three pieces of legislation pushed through Committee hour after hour. Hon. Gentlemen complain about us, but they should realise that this matter deserves more serious treatment than they are giving it at the moment.
§ Mr. J. Bruce-Gardyne (South Angus)
My hon. Friend has so far been dealing entirely with unit pricing and the consumer angle. Amendments Nos. 73 and 57 relate to discount and recovery of excess prices. There is an extremely relevant point here to which I hope he will come. I refer to the whole question of steel pricing by the British Steel Corporation after 1st January. I remind the Under-Secretary that on Monday my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry told us that the Government would keep the House informed on the progress of their discussions with the BSC and the European Communities on this matter. We need this information before we can deal with that part of the Bill which deals with the prices which we are debating today.
§ Mr. Emery
I wanted to deal with that matter later, but I can do it now. We have begun discussions with the European Commission on the difficulties that arise from our decisions. I believe that these discussions will be constructive, because inflation is a major concern not only of ourselves but of the Community as a whole. I am sure that in general they sympathise with our measures to combat inflation. We have tried to secure a voluntary policy to which the BSC could have subscribed of its own free will.
445 The right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East said that, because of paragraph 4(1) of the schedule, the Bill will automatically mean a renunciation of our obligations under the treaty. The right hon. Gentleman is wise enough to know that that is not true and that he is misleading the Committee. He knows that that does not apply unless an order is made. No action is contemplated which would make the Bill any renunciation of our obligations under the treaty.
§ Mr. Benn
This is a fundamental point. Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that if the Bill is passed in its present form it would be open to the Minister, by order, to take action that would negative any action that might be taken under the European Communities Act or by the Commission or through the courts, as the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry confirmed on Monday in answer to my supplementary question?
§ Mr. Emery
I am sorry, I must press on. I have been asked to deal with one or two matters and I should like the opportunity to do so.
In the last but one intervention I was asked about discounts. The Government have made it clear that where a trader or retailer has been in the habit of running discounts he should neither increase his margin nor bring his general practice to an end. If he does, he is likely to be subject to an order under the Bill. If specific offers of discounts or special offers are withdrawn, the right practice—this is the normal practice in retailing—is for other offers relating to similar goods to be made in their place.
Suggestions have been made in the Press that the Bill will allow the present offers of, say, "3p off" to be added to the total shopping basket, and there could therefore be major increases by traders reverting to the prices ruling before the discounts were offered. Such a practice would not comply with the standstill, and people who have consulted the price unit have been so advised.
§ Mr. Bruce-Gardyne
I am sorry to interrupt my hon. Friend again, but there is an important matter with which he must deal, and that is the move to the basing point pricing system of steel. This is due to be done on 1st January next, and I submit that the Committee cannot be asked to vote on the clause unless and until we know whether the British Steel Corporation is to move to the basing point pricing system on that date.
§ Mr. Emery
I thought that my hon. Friend wanted to pursue the point that I was making. That was the impression that he gave me. Had I thought otherwise, I should have given way instead to my hon. Friend the Member for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen).
On the ECSC pricing system, I cannot at this stage say exactly what will be the outcome of the discussions with the Community. Hon. Members are aware that the standstill applies to the BSC in the same way as it does to the rest of manufacturing industry. While it is possible to translate the present level of delivery prices into the new system without any increase of revenue to the BSC, it is the case that some consumers will pay more under the new system, just as some others will pay less. That is as far as it would be right and proper for me to go at this stage.
§ Mr. Ridley
Surely it is the case that any action taken to enforce paragraph 4 of Schedule 1 in relation to steel prices would be likely to be held to be ultra vires by any court because it would be in conflict with the superior legislation, which is the European Communities Act, which would mean that the corporation would be free both to change the basing point price and to raise its prices on 1st January subject to the determination of the courts?
§ Mr. Emery
I believe that I have made the position clear. There can be no breach of our treaty obligations under the schedule unless an order is made. I think that that is clear to everybody.
447 4.45 p.m.
All these amendments attempt to define action which I do not believe it would be possible to carry through in the short standstill period that is envisaged. Nor do I think that they would make sense if incorporated in the Bill. On the other hand, there are some aspects of the amendments with which the Government have considerable sympathy. It is imperative, if the country is to obtain the standstill, which is already working, and if we are to attack inflation, which hon. Members on both sides say they want to see, that the Bill should receive the support of the Committee. The right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East said that the Opposition would support the Bill if it dealt only with prices and not with wages and salaries, too. That seems to be what the argument is about, and in those few words the right hon. Gentleman showed his hand.
The Government believe that the standstill should apply across the board. The Labour Party wants the standstill to apply only to prices. That is not good enough, and I therefore ask the Committee to reject the amendments.
§ Mr. Ray Carter (Birmingham, Northfield)
I have been a Member of the House for two years. During that time I have watched some Ministers put in rather embarrassed performances from the Dispatch Box, but tonight the hon. Gentleman ran the worst of those pretty close. I recall the Minister's utterances in days gone by, and not only in the House. I used to live close to his former constituency of Reading. It would be interesting to read some of the back numbers of Reading and Berkshire newspapers and discover the bloodcurdling things that he said about the iniquities of the Labour Government's prices and incomes policy. It would be interesting, too, to read his earlier speeches in HANSARD, or even his by-election address.
The Minister's performance today was an embarrassed one, to say the least, but, quite frankly, I have no sympathy for him. Anyone who can perform the gymnastics in which he indulged today deserves no sympathy.
I propose to speak primarily to Amendment No. 21 in the names of my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Loughlin) and myself. 448 By this amendment we seek to ensure that the Government play fair by the consumer, and that a variety of devices are not used to circumvent this legislation. I am convinced—even if the Minister is not—that retailers, wholesalers and commercial activities of one kind or another right across the board will move heaven and earth and use all kinds of devices to ensure that they get round the provisions of this measure.
It is strange to hear hon. Members opposite savagely criticising the claims of trade unionists for higher wages while they are at the same time ignoring the enormous rate of inflation which is in part due to quite unjustified price increases by retailers and wholesalers. If they only attacked price increases as they attack wage increases, the public might begin to believe that there was some merit in the Bill. But we know and the country knows that this Government's approach to the problem of a prices and incomes policy is very partial.
There is a great deal of cynicism about the Bill and a prices and incomes policy It has been said many times in the last few days by Conservative Members that there is a great deal of support for the idea. Of course—any rational person, in the abstract, will support the idea but consider what the public have to say later when they are asked whether they think that prices will be kept down. I have read the polls and have heard people interviewed and I have not heard one person say with any conviction that prices will be kept down.
On the contrary, the housewives in particular say that prices will continue to go up. After 60 days or probably fewer, when the public see that prices are still rising, the original welcome for the Bill will disappear entirely. The housewife in particular, who shops daily, will have discovered all kinds of ways are being used to circumvent the Bill.
Just now, the hon. Member for Gloucester (Mrs. Sally Oppenheim) described an experience she had this morning. With great respect to the hon. Lady she cannot be in the most representative position to speak for the British housewife. She is, after all, a Member of this House and she does not come from a background—I say this in all humility—which means that she would suffer the rigours that have to be borne by the average British housewife.
449 The average housewife does not go about her shopping in the calm and leisurely way in which the hon. Member probably went into her shop this morning. The average housewife probably has three kids in tow or is waiting for two to come out of school or is waiting to get them off in the morning. She does not have time to say to the girl at the till or to the manager, "I think that you have over-charged 1p." She is in an entirely different position. Housewives cannot by themselves prevent shopkeepers from over-charging, fiddling or diddling.
§ Mr. Cormack
I wish that the hon. Member would not treat the average housewife with such contempt. She is not quite the fool that he makes out.
§ Mr. Carter
I am married to an ordinary housewife and I know that my wife—[Interruption.] If I could get from that hullabaloo some idea of what hon. Members opposite are trying to say, I would answer them, but from a gabble like that, one can get absolutely nothing. The average housewife does not have time to deal with the problems of price increases in the way in which the hon. Lady can. That is why the British housewife needs legislation to do the job for her. It is because of the suspicions that the British housewife has come to acquire that the whole provision in the Bill for the prevention of price increases will ultimately not only founder but earn the entire contempt of the British housewife.
§ Mr. Arthur Lewis
My hon. Friend is not being fair to the Government. On the hon. Lady's point, does he not know that, if the housewife finds that she is being overcharged 1p, all she has to do is spend 2p to 'phone the Ministry, and that, after about four weeks, the Ministry will tell her that nothing can be done? It is very simple.
§ Mr. Carter
I entirely accept what my hon. Friend said, but I do not want to fall into the trap of treating this exercise frivolously. This is a serious matter. Despite what the Minister said, we treat everything about the Bill with a great deal of seriousness.
I should like to refer the Minister to an article in last Sunday's Sunday Times, which dealt with the ways in which the Bill and the attempt to prevent price rises could be circumvented. First, one 450 wonders how the watchdog group of 36 civil servants feels that it can deal with the 12,000 telephone calls, so far, that the Minister mentioned. If many of the 12,000 had come from consumers complaining about unjustified price increases, they would have had in the backs of their minds an instruction which may well have come from the Minister himself—that no promise should be made that each and every case will be investigated.
That was published in the Sunday Times and, unless the Minister contradicts it, we must assume that it is true. The article said:The DTI told us that it plans only to make orders against a small number of really significant breaches and admitted publicly this weekend that it could not police more than a handful of companies in each product.For the Minister to pretend today that this is full-blooded legislation designed to prevent unjustified price increases is of course complete hypocrisy and adequately explained his obvious embarrassment.
In fact, the Bill contains clear provisions for prices to rise quite legitimately. But what about all the other areas—this is where my amendment seeks to redress the balance in the Bill—of consumption where prices can be raised through a variety of devices? In an intervention, the Minister denied that the 3p-or 6p-off offers could be used to increase prices in a concealed way. I would advise him to consult the Minister of Agriculture. In the same Sunday Times article, a spokesman of that Ministry said that it would be possible for products that had borne a 3p- or 4p-off label to return to their normal level—but precisely what the normal level is I do not know, and I doubt whether the average housewife does. Many products, like soap powder and cereals, have borne these reduction labels for many years. Quite what their normal price would be, I do not know, and I doubt whether the watchdog unit has any idea either.
There is also the problem of volume. It is easy for a manufacturer rapidly to change the volume of any particular product. It could he shampoo, washing-up liquid or a variety of items and in this way a concealed price increase could be made. The practice is already happening but it will be given an added impetus by the Bill. The Bill will posi- 451 tively encourage manufacturers to reduce the quantity or, in some cases, maybe even to increase the quantity and to make a disproportionate price increase. A bar of chocolate could easily be reduced in size. Cigarettes might be given a longer filter or the cigarette made smaller.
Weight could be reduced in the case of cereals, soap and products where weight is the principal measure of sale. New brands could be introduced, as happens regularly with cigarettes, cigars and similar items. These examples add up to a massive area of potential evasion. But there is an even bigger area. Industry is going through the process of metrication. I have no doubt that in the course of the freeze many manufacturers will use the excuse of metrication to introduce different weights, volumes and sizes in order to circumvent the Bill.
Those are two areas where, given the ingenuity of British business—I am sure that in spite of our poor economic performance in recent years a great deal of that still exists—manufacturers can fiddle and diddle their way through the Bill. The increases I have described are in addition to the legitimate increases specified in the Bill, such as changes in import prices and the quite clear provision for wholesalers and retailers to increase prices where they are justified. Seasonal factors will also permit certain increases to be exempt.
To deal with this massive area of possible breach of the Bill there will be 36 civil servants sitting in a small room possibly in Whitehall listening to telephone calls. We are told that they already number 12,000. It is a sham for the Government to pretend—
§ Mr. Carter
As my hon. Friend says, it is a contemptible sham for the Government to pretend that they will get to grips with rising prices. I see the new Under-Secretary of State who is to deal with food prices. I wish her every success, but she can take it from me, if not from her hon. Friends, that she will not be given much assistance by the Bill. It contains no serious attempt to stop unjustified price increases and she is in for a rough time. Prices will continue to 452 rise at an alarming rate, particularly after January 1st.
I have spoken for long enough—[Interruption.] I am sure the Government do not like hearing what I have to say. It is not palatable for them. Conservative Members have to go back to their constituencies this weekend and explain why prices will increase while wages are frozen. The only way in which the Government could have impressed the country with their intentions on keeping prices down was to do what I advocate in new Clause 2, which has not been selected for discussion, but which would have provided the basis for an excellent debate. It suggests that we should establish some sort of prices commission, fully staffed and expertly guided. Thirty-six civil servants in a back-room in Whitehall are no substitute for that kind of policy.
§ The Chairman
Order. Before we go any further I should make a brief announcement to the Committee. I have tried to meet the request of the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) about Amendment No. 50. I am prepared to allow a fuller discussion on the amendment than the right hon. Member was permitted in his opening speech.
§ [Miss HARVIE ANDERSON in the Chair]
§ Mr. Edward Taylor (Glasgow, Cathcart)
We were interested to hear what the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) said about the amendments although not all of us would agree that all traders and shopkeepers are spending all their time thinking up ways of swindling the housewife. However, I agree that if the policy is to be effective we must take steps to ensure that its most obvious defects are dealt with and are foreseen.
In the right hon. Gentleman's speech he put the important point which lies behind most of the amendments which is how housewives are to know whether prices have risen. What general guidance will be given to shopkeepers and housewives about the application of the policy to the introduction of new models, new ideas or new recipes for manufactured food products? As we understand it, the freeze does not apply to meat but it applies to sausages and meat pies. Under 453 Government legislation meat pies contain a considerable amount of meat and there will be considerable pressure to increase the price of pies therefore.
That should be illegal under the Act, but what will be the Government's policy if a major pie manufacturer introduces a new and improved pie with 2 per cent. more meat, or 1 per cent. more flour? What happens if the old traditional pie suddenly disappears from the shelves? That is the kind of problem which could arise. I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of States would say that manufacturers are not seeking ways of deluding the public but how will the Government regard such matters?
If a manufacturer introduces a new kind of pie or sausage, must it be registered with the Ministry and a fair price agreed or will the Government have to wait until someone complains? On the other hand, if a consumer wants to complain, what is there to complain about? He cannot complain that the price has increased if the new improved pie has never been sold before. That is one of the basic problems upon which the Government, at least during the freeze and certainly in any subsequent policy, will have to give some general guidance. Is it regarded as desirable that manufacturers should consult the Department if they are introducing new models, new designs or new recipes?
The same problem will arise with clothing, which places a substantial burden on the average family budget. Is the consumer supposed to keep a check on the changes in the value of clothes? It has been indicated that we are not merely concerned with the 90-day freeze but also with a policy which could have a second, third or fourth phase. We must have guidance on what happens on the introduction of new fashions and new designs.
Next, there is the question of change of size. My hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Mrs. Sally Oppenheim) constantly reminds us of what happens in, for example, the size of packets of biscuits. Any size or weight may be sold. What about the size and design of pots and pans or cars and buses, of atomic power stations or bars of chocolate? What is the general guidance on price in relation to changes in weight?
454 If the weight of a packet of biscuits is altered from 7½ oz. to 7¼ oz., with our new decimal currency in which the smallest unit is ½p it will be impossible to make a meaningful price adjustment to take that into account. What will be the policy, therefore, if a minor adjustment in weight takes place, which might have serious consequences for a company's profitability, if no meaningful alteration in price can be made?
I put the straight question to the Minister: if a biscuit manufacturer who had sold a packet of biscuits weighing 7½, oz. at 1s.—I use the old money for a moment—then brings the weight down to 7¼ oz., since the smallest unit of our present currency is ½p, what can be done about it? It seems to me that there are but two alternatives—either to ignore it or to forbid manufacturers to change weights.
It may be said that this is a hypothetical question and that 99 per cent. of manufacturers will not do that sort of thing. None the less, it is the sort of thing that will happen in a minority of cases, and we must have guidance about it. Will manufacturers be stopped from changing the size or weight of packages if no meaningful price relationship with the change can he established?
Next, the question of special offers. We all know of the practice of offering "3p off", and that if someone does that he should continue to offer 3p off. But, as my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester has pointed out on earlier occasions, "3p off" may well be meaningless because one often finds that the 3p off results in a price higher than the price asked by someone who offers no reduction whatever, the reason being that some manufacturers have two sets of prices, recommended prices and maximum recommended retail prices. For this reason, reductions of this kind may be meaningless, and the need for general guidance is the greater.
Moreover, there is the practice of offering loss leaders, with considerable variations in price and commodity—perhaps cake this week, sugar next week, butter the week after, and so on. If a firm has not as a practice made general price reductions but has had the habit of offering loss leaders, what general guidance will the unit, the Government or anyone else interested in the matter give to the 455 shopkeeper and shopper? If guidance is not given that a firm which has made a general practice of offering weekly or periodical loss leaders should continue that practice, it would seem unfair in relation to another firm which has been offering particular reductions over a fairly long period.
§ Mr. Emery
This is an important matter, so perhaps I might intervene now. Where firms have been in the habit of providing loss leaders as an attraction at the weekend, they will be expected to carry on with that sort of practice. That is the advice which is being given. Naturally, the product does not always have to be the same—it has never necessarily been so—but there should be balancing effect to give precisely the same sort of benefit as consumers have previously had.
§ Mr. Taylor
I am much obliged to my hon. Friend. When he says that firms which are in the habit of giving loss leaders should continue to do so, is he looking at it in relation to price, to quantity or to the financial position of the firm? In other words, does it mean that a firm which has had the habit of offering loss leaders should continue the practice of offering something at a loss?
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Emery
I used the term in the sense of the practice of providing goods at cut prices as an attraction at the weekend. As my hon. Friend knows, the question of the loss leader is affected by the law in another way. What I am suggesting is that the benefit to the consumer, whether by weight or by price, should be the same as that which was previously provided. This is seen by those concerned, particularly supermarket traders, as a fair and reasonable way of behaving.
§ Mr. Taylor
I am grateful for that advice, and I look forward to the discussion which we may have on any order which comes forward in that connection. I am not convinced that the legislation would provide for an order instructing firms to do that, but I am none the less grateful to my hon. Friend for his help.
There is already the protection of the standard packaging requirement under which certain items such as tea, coffee, butter and sugar must be offered in certain standard weights. This is a protec- 456 tion for the housewife as things stand, although we have the small problem that the standard packaging allows both 12-oz. and 16-oz. packets, which introduces a certain element of confusion, and it is here that the question of unit pricing becomes important.
Amendment No. 49 would introduce unit pricing, the object being to remove confusion. Although my colleagues and I who studied these matters and produced a report are enthusiastic about unit pricing as a long-term safeguard for consumers, I consider that it would be wrong to rush through a comprehensive system of unit pricing during a freeze period. On the other hand, I should be greatly disappointed if the Government did not move to unit pricing after the 90 days or during the phase 2 operation.
It would be wrong to rush a comprehensive unit pricing scheme through now because, in the first place, there are certain complex technical problems to be overcome. For example, what about washing powders? For this purpose, would the unit be weight? That would be nonsense because some washing powders have a much greater washing power, some have a special chemical concentration, and so on. Will it be volume? What will it be? [Interruption.] Hon. Members opposite may question the relevance of these points, but I assure them that they are directly relevant. By and large, there are two principal kinds of washing powder on sale now, one very powerful and one not, so it would be meaningless to proceed on the basis of unit pricing unless questions of this kind are settled. The same applies to many other items the prices of which are escalating.
It will be essential, if we are to have a phase 2 operation, to have unit pricing as a meaningful safeguard for the consumer. The case is all the stronger if metrication is to be introduced in the High Street, for it will be impossible for the average housewife to know whether prices are rising unless we have unit pricing and adequate general guidance. There will be confusion enough at the time of metrication, and without unit pricing that confusion will be worse confounded.
The period of 90 days plus 60 days will take us on to the time when the 457 value added tax is introduced. The housewife is instructed by the Government to watch prices, but her position will be intolerable in that situation. How is she to calculate what will be allowed for the removal of purchase tax and of SET and for the addition of the VAT element? Whether VAT will raise prices generally is a question of judgment. All one can be sure of is that, when it is introduced, one will have to take into account the removal of purchase tax on some goods, the fact that other goods were exempt, the removal of SET, which has applied in different ways to different premises, and the addition of VAT, at zero rate, at 10 per cent., or exempt. The average housewife will not have a clue whether prices are going up or down.
What general help can be given to the shopkeeper in these circumstances so that he may know whether prices are going up or down? Unless we have prices registered with the Government, and vetted by some kind of organisation, it will be extremely difficult at the time of the introduction of VAT to know what is happening.
I come now to the question of the redress open to people who have been deceived by a false trade description. Under the Trade Descriptions Act, introduced by the Labour Government, an excellent Act, it has been possible to prosecute traders who have given false descriptions. That procedure has worked successfully. What has not worked successfully is the means of redress for those who have been disadvantaged by traders who gave misleading descriptions.
Suppose there is a case involving a misleading description of a car. It is easy to prosecute the people selling that car, but if the individual who has been diddled wants redress he must go to court, and the great majority of people are scared of the cost of going to court. The same thing must apply to this legislation. If someone deceives the public or breaks the law by charging more than he should, we understand that he can be prosecuted and substantial fines may be imposed. But what about the person who has been overcharged? Will there is any procedure to redress his grievance? If my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester had not been successful in getting her penny off Omo and the firm had been 458 prosecuted for selling it at that higher price, how would she have got redress?
§ Mr. Biffen
The answer to that is probably in Clause 5(9) which says that the only person who can bring a prosecution is someone who has the consent of the Attorney-General.
§ Mr. Taylor
We shall need some guidance as to how the average housewife obtains the consent of the Attorney-General for this purpose. In the long term we want—and I am sure that we shall get this from the Government—effective and meaningful measures to help the consumer with these complicated problems. It will be difficult to do this unless, again in the long term, we have, at least, unit pricing, consumer advice centres in every major centre of population and a consumer arbitration service, which will give redress to an individual in an easy, cheap and meaningful way without recourse to the courts.
§ Mr. Bruce-Gardyne
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Chairman. Could you elucidate the point made by your predecessor? Do I understand that we are now discussing Amendment No. 50 with the remainder of the amendments in this group?
§ Mr. Charles Loughlin (Gloucestershire, West)
I want to take up the point made by the Minister on Amendment No. 21. This amendment reads:Clause 2, page 1, line 23, after 'description', insert '(including, in particular, the same volume, measure and quantity)'.This is almost the kernel of the possibility of ensuring that people continue to get the same value as they did prior to the coming into operation of the Act. The hon. Gentleman says that this is taken care of by paragraph 1(1) of the schedule which gives the Minister power to do this. That is a very vague paragraph in that it says "may prescribe".
The Minister made an appalling speech. I have often listened to him and heard him making good speeches, but tonight it seemed as if he did not believe in what he was saying. If he agrees, as he seemed to, that it is desirable that the Minister should, if he wishes, be able to put this provision into an order, I can- 459 not see why it should not be written into the Bill.
I do not know how we shall deal with questions affecting different size packages, different weights, loss leaders and special offers. The hon. Gentleman seemed to have a formula for dealing with it. He said that if a firm had been in the habit of offering loss leaders then, irrespective of any other circumstance, that firm would be expected, indeed compelled, to continue with loss leaders, presumably in the same volume as in the past even though the loss leader may vary from month to month.
There are about a quarter of a million distributive units, and I just do not know how an effective policing, system could be worked out. The formula is as daft as anything that has ever been invented. It is possible that what appears to be a loss leader is nothing of the kind. It may be that a company has decided to get rid of some stock that is "holding". So it puts a reduction on it and it appears to be a loss leader. How will the distinction be made between "holding" stock and loss leaders? There is the question of the 2p or 3p off. There are hundreds of thousands of items advertised on this basis. I received a letter recently from one of my old-age pensioners enclosing an advertisement for goods, every single one of which has something off. How can we say to traders "If you have had 2p off this and 3p off that, then, even though you do not apply the deductions to the same commodities, you must apply them to other commodities"? How shall we determine volume?
If a shop has 80 advertised reductions, are we to say that in future it shall make 80 reductions every week, or will the firm be given a ratio? Will it be 5 per cent. or 10 per cent.? The whole thing is barmy. The more people examine the alleged provisions for holding down prices the more it will be seen that they are completely impracticable.
I do not want to deal with cash margins because my right hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) dealt with this point adequately. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman can tell me how he will deal with all those commodities which at the moment bear no weight marking. There are many such articles on sale in every shop and supermarket. How can 460 he determine that the same volume and quantity will be in those packages after the Act comes into operation? There is a spate of advertisements for Christmas articles, and I quote the two quoted in the Sunday Times—Mars Bars and Golden Wonder Crisps. They may be of minor consequence to some, but a large number of them are sold to ordinary people. In many cases, the individual items in a Christmas package could be bought more cheaply separately.
I am more concerned about the enormous number of packages which contain odd weights. In the advertisement to which I have referred there are all sorts of odd weights—11 ounces, 19 ounces, 15½ ounces, and so on. Most of them do not mean much to the ordinary shopper. I am married to an extraordinary woman who is an ordinary housewife. Perhaps I had better qualify that because I do not want to be bashed when I get home. My wife, when looking at the weights marked on packages, has difficulty in determining the price per pound or per ounce. I believe that most women have.
The old-age pensioner who sent me the cutting to which I have referred said:We are advised to shop around and compare prices. Unless one is a mathematical genius it would seem to me to be a waste of time and effort".He also said:I and my wife are pensioners and the printed weight is so often too small to be read by us".Unless we make the Bill specific, I do not believe that we can ensure that the quantities and weights of commodities which apply now will apply after the Bill comes into effect. I make no charge against the vast majority of food manufacturers, food packagers and shopkeepers. I am simply saying—and this is why we must legislate; we always have to legislate for the minority—that there are people who will take the fullest possible advantage of any situation, and they will take advantage of the absence of a provision such as that suggested in the amendment. I ask the Government to re-examine their position with a view to accepting the amendment.
I do not think that the Bill will be very effective, particularly on prices. I do not believe that the Government intend it to 461 be very effective on prices. However, if the Committee can put a little steel into certain parts of it and make it more effective, it will have done a good job.
§ Mrs. Sally Oppenheim
I must have in mind a different kind of freeze from that which hon. Members opposite have in mind because, in my experience, the Bill has been widely welcomed, particularly by housewives who feel that in their fight against rising prices they at last have the law and the Government behind them. Suppose that only one price rise in 10 is reported, and only one in 100 is investigated. The fact that different Departments will be able to exercise the powers in the Bill will be a strong deterrent to people taking advantage of shoppers.
I do not pretend to be an expert on the control of prices. The Molony Committee made it clear that price controls did not come within the scope of consumer affairs. But, as hon. Members have said, many aspects of consumer affairs are complementary to making emergency legislation of this sort effective. I say to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Carter) that I make no pretence to be a so-called average housewife. No hon. Member can possibly be an average housewife because she is a Member of Parliament. No wife of an hon. Member can claim to be an average housewife. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] Because the so-called average housewife does not have to manage on the kind of salary which an hon. Member earns.
Although I grant that I am not an average housewife, I go to my constituency week after week and I talk to housewives about the problems of shopping and prices. But I have never come across the "average housewife"—the mythical creature so often referred to in this debate. The housewives to whom I talk are individuals. They have different qualities. They have different levels of perception. They are not ordinary in any sense of the word.
However, they are a good deal cleverer than many politicians give them credit for. They do not need a watchdog to tell them whether food prices are going up—and I am referring to basic food prices. They know whether a pound of butter, sugar or tea costs more and they know whether meat costs more. How- 462 ever, as the housewife moves away from basic food prices, which will not be affected by the Bill anyway, she comes to the more sophisticated side of the market.
§ Mr. Buchan
I wish to be helpful because I appreciate the "poor little rich" problem which the hon. Lady faces. However, her penny example was totally irrelevant. Coming from the hon. Lady, it was meaningless. However, I should like her to take this point on board, because I understand her genuine attempts to make contact with the ordinary housewife who she pretends does not exist. It is not a question of the housewife not understanding what is happening to prices. The fact is—I am not talking about opinion—that the poor do not complain because if they do it means that they are saying, "We cannot afford it". That is why the housewife tends not to complain in the shops. The rich and Members of Parliament complain because it is known that they can afford it. That is why the poor always pay more.
§ Mrs. Oppenheim
I am sorry that I gave way to the hon. Gentleman because he did not take up any point which I have made in this speech. He took up an intervention which I made earlier. If the poor, as he describes them, do not complain, it is time that we did something about educating their attitudes, and that is something which I strive to do.
As the housewife moves away from the basic food commodities, which are not affected by the Bill, to the more sophisticated side of the market place, which includes pre-packed foods, groceries and processed foods, I agree that the difficulty of detecting price rises becomes very real. During this freeze period, for example, the minority of shopkeepers who normally mislead consumers will be all the more tempted to do so. There is no doubt about that whatsoever. Housewives will, it is perfectly true, have to be on their guard more than they have ever been before with regard to a minority of shopkeepers.
In present circumstances the freeze—and this has been reflected in so many speeches by hon. Members in this debate—brings a very sharp focusing of attention on consumer issues, on the issues which have already been mentioned this 463 afternoon, and about which I hope we shall be able to act through one Government measure or another. I refer to unit pricing, and action to deal with double pricing, and to close the loophole in the Trade Descriptions Act. I refer to standard packaging and date stamping. It is no good buying food at a lower price only to find when one gets it home that it is stale. It is no good buying a tin of frut labelled "8 ozs." only to find in it two halves of a peach floating about in a canful of syrup.
Those stores which give the consumer good service are those which reap their own rewards. The two most profitable supermarket chains in this country, perhaps, Marks and Spencer and Sainsbury, are ones which have not thrown up their hands in horror and said that if they adopt consumer protection methods that will have to put up their prices. Marks and Spencer has introduced date stamping and Sainsbury has introduced unit pricing with hardly a tremor, with no word about any great complication or difficulty, and it has paid dividends in their own profitability. Consumers like to think that the retailers with whom they deal consider them.
But prices are not the beginning and end of competition. All sorts of polls taken recently show that consumers, regardless of income, care very much about the quality of the goods they buy and about the condition of the shops where they buy them—above all about the cleanliness of the shops—and the range of merchandise which they have for sale. We should bear this aspect of competition in mind when discussing prices in the context of this Bill.
However, there are some price rises which it will be almost impossible for the housewife to detect, because she has no yardstick by which to measure. I refer particularly to service charges and to charges for spare parts for motor cars and washing machines, and I refer also to electrical appliances. I hope that my right hon. Friend will be able to give some guidance to garage dealers and anyone who sells electrical appliances or services them. They should put up a list dated 6th November of prices of spare parts, and their service rates.
There is no way the housewife can tell whether she is having to pay more for 464 these services when she, or anyone else for that matter, is cut off from any form of competition. When the consumer is choosing a car or an appliance the forces of competition are at work in the purchaser's interest, but the moment that the car or appliance has been paid for, effective competition ceases, especially in the price of spare parts. If manufacturers were made to publish price lists of spare parts along with the price of the car we should soon see an element of competition coming in for the consumers' protection.
My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward Taylor) has said the Bill highlights the need for comprehensive consumer advice centres such as we called for in "Square Deal". Many of the difficulties which have been specifically discussed today could have been dealt with in comprehensive consumer centres better than by any Government Department.
It is very useful indeed to look at the United States experience of the price freeze there. There is in the United States legislation one practice which I should like to see adopted in this country. Every retail outlet in the United States since the beginning of the freeze has had to put up a notice informing consumers that they may ask for the base price in November, 1971, which was the date when their freeze started.
There is another interesting aspect of the American freeze which I should like to draw to the attention of the Committee. There was very little resistance from the trade union movement in the United States to the freeze because all but a few million workers in the United States were in the middle of three-year agreements at the time that the freeze started.
I should like to quote from the November issue of U.S. News & World Report, from an interview with the chairman of the Price Commission in the United States. He was asked what hopeful signs he had seen as a result of the freeze and he replied:For one thing, the application requests for price increases by many of the companies still under controls generally involve increases in the range which we are now operating. In many cases, companies are not putting their authorised price increases into effect. They are actually operating below the authorised level that they could go up to.465 "Why is that?" he was asked. He replied:Competition. That's what the firms tell us informally. And the record shows it.Asked where most of the complaints came from he replied:On food prices.He was asked:Do people want you to clamp controls on food?He replied:People are ambivalent about this. They want price increases on food moderated. But when I ask them to think of what may happen—shortages which would lead to black markets and possibly rationing—there is then some hesitancy and some recognition of the volatility of these prices.That is a very good point, and we have to consider it when we are explaining to housewives here, that during the period of the freeze some foods may rise in price and indeed are likely to do so. To look at the American experiment and to see the effect which, over the period of time it has taken place, it has had on the rate of inflation must be very interesting to people in this country.
The effectiveness of this Bill depends a great deal on the vigilance of housewives, whom I refuse to denigrate to the extent some hon. Members have done. Because the effectiveness of the Bill does depend on the vigilance of the housewife I have every confidence that it will succeed.
Most important of all will be the second phase of the legislation, that second phase which we hope will follow this Bill. We hope that it will lead to a lasting solution of this problem. I hope that phase 2 can be achieved by means of mutual agreement. If it can, we shall have achieved a most crucial factor in accomplishing what are the objectives of both sides of the Committee and both sides of industry all of whom are deeply concerned with whether we can look forward to a prosperous country for all our people, or whether we can only look backwards in a mood of despair.
§ Dr. Dickson Mabon
In this debate we have witnessed the agony of the Conservative Party, as evidenced by the Minister's speech which was in such marked contrast with what he said when he was in Opposition. I am sorry that the Minister spoke so early in the debate.
466 The hon. Member for Gloucester (Mrs. Sally Oppenheim), who supported the Government when the National Board for Prices and Incomes and the Consumer Council were abolished—
§ Dr. Mabon
If the hon. Lady did not vote for the abolition of the Consumer Council, I was not aware of any wild protests on her behalf. I am not chastising her; she made a very good speech. It was the speech of a convert preaching to the faithful. It reminded me of Dr. Johnson's words about a lady preaching to the congregation being like a dog standing on its hind legs; it was not done very well but it was astonishing that it was done at all.
It is astounding that the hon. Lady should say what she did. Her speech matched that of her parliamentary husband, the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward Taylor). In delightful companionship they have been trying to teach us the virtues of consumer protection during the last six months. The Opposition and one or two hon. Members on the Government side, particularly those who are associated with the retail consortium, have been trying hard to get across the need for consumer protection. The hon. Members for Gloucester and Cathcart are welcome as new recruits, but they must not preach to us the measures that in previous Parliaments we have tried to enshrine in consumer legislation.
§ Mr. Cormack
Will the hon. Gentleman explain what marvellous measures of consumer protection, with the honourable exception of the Trade Descriptions Act, the Government of which he was a member introduced?
§ Dr. Mabon
The very fact that the hon. Gentleman exempts the Trade Descriptions Act is proof of the pudding. My right hon. Friend the Member for 467 Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Darling) was instrumental in the measures taken in the last Parliament, but those measures are not the last word. No Parliament can say that it has done the job of consumer protection and that that is the end of it.
There are more hon. Members who are agreed on the need for Clause 2(1) than are against it. Most of us agree that it is the keystone of the arch of the entire policy. If Clause 2(1) collapses, the whole conception becomes a nonsense, so it must be approached constructively, as my Amendment No. 73 does. The Minister wants us all to pay tribute to the retail trade, but he is the last one who should pay such a tribute. He has not attempted to answer the amendments. He has not told us what will happen to those who, on 6th November, were involved in a temporary discount on a No. 73 refers to. The amendment says usual charge, which is what Amendment nothing about weekend prices or loss leaders, it poses a specific question which the Minister has not answered. He has not explained to the Committee or to the retail trade, which he is supposed to be enlightening tonight, what will happen.
Paragraph 1(1) of the schedule—which, because of the guillotine, we shall probably never discuss—says:An order or notice under section 2 of this Act may be framed in any way whatsoever, may prescribe any method of comparing prices, charges, rates of remuneration, dividends or rents…".That is a complete blank cheque.
Last night we endeavoured to find out what the second phase was. Tonight we are discussing prices and we are still fumbling our way through the Bill trying to find out what is meant by the second phase in relation to prices. We are no further forward and, unless the Minister makes a devastatingly good speech in the last 20 minutes, we shall none of us be any wiser, in spite of all the amendments we have tabled.
My Co-operative colleagues, who have joined me in the amendment, have worked loyally in the retail consortium and are working with the Government to try to make the price freeze work, will be disappointed that the Government are not responding to the questions which have been asked. The hon. Member for Cathcart asked several questions. Basically, he asked: will the Minister answer 468 Amendments Nos. 49, 21 and 73? That is what the hon. Gentleman's speech amounted to. He did not move any amendments and I am not blaming him for that. That is a condemnation of the Minister who took 35 minutes to tell us precisely nothing.
I must complain about Ministers who, at the beginning of a guillotined debate, answer one amendment and do not listen to the points made by hon. Members or, if they do listen, are unable to answer them because the debate is guillotined. I ask the Minister in this debate to make a second attempt at answering the three amendments I have mentioned.
There are three other amendments grouped together which have not been called and on which hon. Members have been unable to make speeches. Does the Minister intend to reply to those? He has made no reference to them. It is a terrible condemnation of the way we conduct our business that we should spend three and a half hours on the central issue of the Bill—prices—without an adequate response from the Minister.
I do not have to make a case for my amendment. It is patently obvious what it means—
§ Dr. Mabon
As the hon. Gentleman knows, offers are made by co-operative socieities, stores, supermarkets and small shopkeepers that may last for one week, one month or six months. According to the literal meaning of the Bill, any store which made such an offer on 6th November should be held to that offer. After all, a freeze is a freeze. The Minister today said that he does not mean it to be a freeze. He says that for whatever reason these temporary offers were made—as loss leaders, to attract custom or to clear out the store—the shopkeeper or the company concerned will not be held to that special offer for the next 90 or 150 days. The Minister said, "I shall allow him to withdraw that offer, revert to the usual price and then I shall ask him to give a concession on something else".
I do not understand how the Minister can say to a company or store, "On 6th November you made a cut-price offer, 469 I understand that you cannot continue to make that offer and I now want you to make a cut-price offer on something else". Who is the Minister to decide on which particular commodity the price is to be cut? There may be an answer; perhaps in the great wisdom of Whitehall there is an answer from the brilliant civil servants, but no one has answered it and the Minister has not told us. The Minister must either say that he recognises that the literal words in the Bill are a nonsense as they stand without the amendment, or he must give us an explanation. My amendment and the others we are discussing should be incorporated into the Bill as they stand.
The Government must take more seriously these debates in Committee. They must not treat these as Second Reading matters. We should get down to discussing the amendments and the Government should consider whether some of them are worth accepting. I can hardly believe that the terrible experience we suffered over the European Communities Bill will be repeated ever again in Parliament. No Bill is worth a sausage unless it is amended at some time somewhere by the House of Commons. This is a tyranny which is undermining parliamentary democracy. I genuinely believe that Amendment No. 73 is well worth incorporating in the Bill.
§ [Sir STEPHEN MCADDEN in the Chair]
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Wilfred Proudfoot (Brighouse and Spenborough)
I will not take up the remarks of the hon. Member for Greenock (Dr. Dickson Mabon), but will begin by reminding the Committee that Lord Woolton once said that the best place to learn about human beings was not in a hospital, or a prison, but on the other side of a shop counter taking the money from the customers. That is the place to learn what it is all about.
It has been said in this debate that the poor people of the country are always the last to complain, and therefore in that context this is a middle-class debate by middle-class people. We must not forget that the freeze will last for only 90 days. All the fears and complications conjured up by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward Taylor) cannot possibly be achieved in that 90 days.
470 In these debates we are zero-ing in on one set of prices only, food prices. We have picked a section of the market which in competitive terms is the most vigorous. There are all the new techniques of retailing, with out-of-town large shops being established, with cash-and-carry at the wholesale end, and with great changes occurring all the time. I am convinced that the grocers, if that is the right word to use these days, will respond to the Bill. Indeed, I am convinced that they are already doing so.
Retailers are not as worried by the Government as they are by their own customers. Let us remember that retailers will be in business when the Government are finished and gone—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Labour hon. Members should not "Hear, hear" so loudly and quickly. I in my own business have seen off six Governments already. I am much more worried by the competitor down the street than I am by any Government, and every housewife knows this.
The idea among many hon. Members that housewives go tramping round the streets from bargain to bargain is quite untrue. This applies to only a tiny minority of shoppers. The rest go to a shop which is convenient and they come to trust that particular shopkeeper. When that relationship is broken, they realise that the connection is finished and go off to another shop. It is as simple as that. The housewife does not act as we would expect "economic woman" to act, because the market place is full of kindnesses and human feelings, but when the relationship is broken she goes to another store.
The hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Carter) appeared to want a price freeze on everything. But what would happen if we were to tell the Civil Service to control every single price? I can predict with great confidence that every retailer's profit margin would go up, because immediately a committee is set up to look into these matters, it becomes composed of "the Establishment" of the trade. The "establishment" of every trade is made up of failures, and this point was once made by Lord Hill of Wivenhoe, who was general secretary of a large trade union. They are the people who will get on to these committees rather than getting on with their business.
471 I once remember making a keynote speech to a number of grocers telling them to pitch in and compete with each other. However, also present were those in the trade who thought that God had brought down on tablets of stone the fact that there would be a 20 per cent. return on every item in the store. But life has never been like that. Those are the sort of people who would tramp down to Whitehall religiously once a month, hoping that their OBEs would come in with the rations. At those committee meetings they would put forward respectable arguments in support of the view that 20 per cent. return should be extracted on every item on the grocer's shelf, and they would win that argument. They have been taking this line in France for many years in terms of price control, and the profit margins of every retailer would rise if we tried to adopt this course.
The same result would follow if we were to follow the advice of my hon. Friend the Member for Cathcart and put every item in the same size package. This would not work. If hon. Members wish to see what happens when everything is in the same size package, they should go to the GUM store in Moscow and see how drab it makes everything. We retailers can bring some colour to each other's lives, even if only by competing with each other.
Let me turn to the question of merchandise mix. I believe that retailers will stick to the prices as frozen. There is a misconception about the term "loss leaders". To me loss leaders are items which are permanently cut, and they result in a loss to the shopkeeper since he must sell below the price at which he buys. Therefore, he makes a loss on that unit. I just do not know how it will be possible to restore the margin in such a case when it is a negative one. Shopkeepers will continue to do business in this way; they will obey the freeze for that reason.
One kind of store selling groceries may have a return of 13 per cent. and a supermarket, with a great range of commodities including fresh foods, could have a margin of 19 per cent. It might surprise the Committee to discover what wholesale levels are in terms of food. The margin in a company which I have 472 the honour to serve is only 4.69 per cent.—in other words less than 5p in the £ profit. Therefore, we are talking about the most vigorously competitive business in our society. If all manufacturers were as competitive as those in distribution, we should be selling transistors to the Japanese!
Let me turn to one item that foxes housewives. We see in the Sunday Times and indeed in the local Press lists showing what has happened to 25 items in a housewife's shopping basket, carrying with them the old question, "Why do the prices vary?". The way it all works is incredibly complicated. There is a view among the general public that all one has to do in retailing is to put some goods in the shop and they will be sold to housewives. But the situation is not as simple as that. An independent trader can find himself in competition with a large multiple just down the road—indeed, there may be two multiples competing directly with him, those multiples being supplied from distribution units 100 miles away from the shop.
The shopper asks the independent trader, "Why have you not put down your price to what the big shop is charging down the road?". Because of the way in which the system works, that independent trader may be able to put down that price a week later, but he may have some difficulty in explaining the situation to the shopper. The mind boggles when one considers the competitive situation in the food industry.
My hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Mrs. Sally Oppenheim) was incorrect in one of her statements. I will tell her the reasons why people pick a particular store in which to shop. The first is location; the second is choice of merchandise; the third is the services offered, credit and delivery; the fourth is price; and fifth, surprisingly, is cleanliness. It is incredible, but that is the correct order of things and it has been established for years.
Very few hon. Members realise how vigorous is the pricing policy which the Government are asking retailers to pursue for 90 days. It says that some prices will have to go up but that it is hoped that percentage margins will be maintained at present levels and that 473 cash margins will not be allowed to rise. However, if a shopkeeper's cash margin does not go up and the price of the goods coming into his shop goes up, then his percentage profit must be reduced.
I can remember when bread was four-pence a loaf. A Labour Government were in office. In my village at that time they were feeding it to pigs because it was cheaper than pig food. That is how Socialism works. However, the ham which was produced at that time fetched £1 per 1b. on the black market. It does not cost that much today. Every time the price of bread went up, the cash margin was maintained. It created chaos amongst retailers.
The retailers have accepted the toughest part of the freeze. They will have to accept reduced profits if it is put into effect by the Government. The retail trade is the only part of the community being asked to take a reduction. I believe that that should be made obvious.
We have heard a great deal about imports. As I have said before, distribution is like a pipeline: goods come in at one end and go out at the other without being altered very much. If they come in at an increased price, they must go out at an increased price. World markets change. My hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-West (Sir D. Kaberry) was telling me what happened in his garden the other day. He had three rows of runner beans. It was a beautiful crop. One morning recently he looked out of his window and saw that a frost had knocked off all the tops. God gets into the act on food prices. We cannot keep him out. There have been many attempts to do so. They have been called marketing boards.
If there is foot and mouth disease in New Zealand or Australia, up will go the price of butter. I have known that since I was a boy. I remember going regularly to a small farm locally to buy eggs. At one time of the year they were sixpence a dozen. However, in the middle of winter the hens did not do so well and the price went up to 1s. 3d. a dozen. The housewife understands that. However, virtually all our food goes through a competitive auction before it reaches 474 our tables. The market forces are acknowledged there. A glance at the Financial Times will tell us how much we shall have to pay for cocoa next year, assuming that we wish to buy cocoa.
It would be wrong for me to talk like this if I did not try to make positive suggestions about ways to help reduce prices. The first practical suggestion that occurs to me concerns the degree of shrinkage or pilferage that goes on. The retail trade takes £15,000 million a year in the dry grocery business alone. Recently a working party of the Institution of Grocery Distribution published its report. The estimated turnover in dry groceries in 1971 was £3,572 million. The shrinkage figure in dry groceries was £27 million per annum, or virtually 0.75 per cent. That is normal. In fact, it is considered very good. Some stores have up to 5 per cent. shrinkage.
In that report no one is clever enough to identify who has taken these goods. The working party looking into the problem said that 59 per cent. of the figure was the result of dishonesty and 40 per cent. was the result of errors and inexperience. However, it broke down the dishonesty figure and came to the conclusion that staff accounted for 19 per cent., customers for 21 per cent. and vanmen and others for 29 per cent.
People are prosecuted for theft. However, in the permissive society in which we live we seem to have gone soft on the shoplifter. Members of Parliament have conducted campaigns telling magistrates to be kinder to shoplifters. I do not pretend for a moment that Parliament should interfere with the judiciary. However, I believe that we could stop this practice by bringing it to public notice. If it were given as much publicity as "mugging" has received recently, it may be that the figure could be reduced, and I am sure that competition would ensure that any advantage was passed on to the customer.
§ Mr. Loughlin
Let us get the leakage in perspective, especially that concerning those who work in distribution. In all investigations into leakages it is very often discovered that they are consequent upon the policy pursued by the firm concerned in that it does not make allowance for various items which should not be included in the final figure.
§ Mr. Proudfoot
The subject is immensely complicated when one tries to analyse it. Nevertheless, the figure amounts to £27 million a year in dry groceries alone. It is a sad commentary on our society. What is more—before right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite object—it is not a practice which is confined to any one class of society. It goes right through the income groups and all classes. I am putting forward a practical, sensible suggestion that if we can stop some of this dishonesty I am sure that any price advantage will be passed on to the customer.
The practical end of what happens is that chain stores have to be very tough with their managers in demanding correct stocks. The reaction of store managers is the practice known as "buncing": they put up prices locally to cover losses. Some items are priced over the odds by managers trying to keep their stocks correct.
It is also possible to reduce margins by using economies of scale and modern techniques. This House is against the idea, hook, line and sinker, at the moment. It is politically unpopular to support schemes for out-of-town shopping centres. Both parties hope to court the small shopkeeper. In this respect I am myself a small shopkeeper. I cannot help it. I started with one small store. But it is impossible to protect small shopkeepers in this way. Indeed, they have already taken steps to protect themselves by getting together in voluntary cooperatives. They are in business, and they will stay there.
The Department of the Environment has turned its face against out-of-town shopping centres. But it has been proved that they reduce the cost of distribution.
Those are two practical suggestions that the Government should consider. The first relates to shoplifting and general dishonesty. The second requires another look at out-of-town shopping centres where land is cheap and car parking adequate.
§ Mr. Pardoe
The hon. Member for Brighouse and Spenborough (Mr. Proud-foot) has made an amusing and informative speech. However, in the process he has confirmed the real suspicion in our minds when we listened earlier to the Under-Secretary of State, which is that 476 the Government believe that it is impossible to control prices.
The real fear about this Bill is that, though the Government believe that prices cannot be controlled, it is necessary to have price control in the legislation as a political sop. The Government know that it is politically impossible to control wages without seeming to control prices as well.
The Under-Secretary's remarks about prices and incomes were an example of the way that an eleventh hour conversion is rarely based on sound theology. The hon. Gentleman showed that the Government had done little thinking about how to control prices, and he made it fairly clear that their excuse was that they did not believe that the job could be done. If the Government believe that, it may be right. I think it is right. One cannot control the whole panoply of prices, certainly the sort of prices about which the hon. Member for Brig-house and Spenborough was talking, unless there is highly competitive food distribution. Direct action would involve a panoply of wartime controls. It is much better to try to control only nationally agreed prices by banning companies, such as petrol companies, from putting up their prices.
The Under-Secretary of State may not know very much about food prices, but from his experience he knows something about petrol prices. But if one tries to refer to the Monopolies Commission the fact that the petrol companies—there are really only three—have all put up their prices at the same time, the Government say, "We know that they have put up their prices at once; if you have any evidence that that is collusion, put it to us." That is the response which I got from the hon. Gentleman's Department. Yet that may well be the only way in which we can control prices.
The Under-Secretary of State has been asked in a series of amendments, including Amendment No. 94, what he is going to do about certain aspects of pricing policy. He has been asked to define the position on discounts. He has clouded the issue even more wondrously than it was clouded before. He said that if a pack or a container of any commodity was priced, for example, at 10p before 6th November with 3p off, the full 10p cannot be 477 charged and retailers will have to continue to charge 7p for the next 90 days. Is that true? I understand that is what the hon. Gentleman said although he took a rather circuitous way to say it.
Whose discount is it? Is it the manufacturer's discount, the wholesaler's or the retailer's? There are at least three kinds of discount which the hon. Gentleman should take into account, and they are all different. The time was when 3p off was indicated by a sticker which was pasted on the pack by the retailer, or perhaps the wholesaler, in the case of Mace or some organisation of that sort. One could then see the manufacturer's original price. Now we have a situation in which the sticker is no longer pasted on, but the discount is printed on the pack. Whose discount is that? Is it the manufacturer saying "I have a retail price which I recommend but I have printed this pack with 3p off"? In my view, the 3p-off price becomes the recommended price. It is total hypocrisy to suppose that 3p off means anything in that case.
The Minister must define the situation much more closely. There are other weaknesses in the Bill and we have drawn attention to one in a later amendment which I hope we shall be able to discuss later tonight or tomorrow. The hon. Member for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen) has drawn attention to that particular weakness in Clause 5(9):Proceedings for an offence under the Act shall not be instituted in England or Wales except by or with the consent of the Attorney General".I do not want to go into the detailed arguments, but it is a bad principle for Parliament to pass legislation which includes such a subsection. However, I suspect that I know the reason why the Government are anxious to have that subsection. The Government do not know what interpretation the courts will put on some parts of the Bill and they are anxious that their interpretation be followed. They are afraid that another interpretation might be put on it by a court of law if they are challenged. The subsection is retained in the event of any challenge.
Prices were the weakest part of the Labour Government's prices and incomes legislation. I supported the Labour Government's attempt to get a prices and 478 incomes policy and voted on it with the Labour Government. However, I think that even Labour Members will admit that the ban on prices was the weakest part of their legislation. Those of us who were present remember the frustration and cynicism of people who thought that prices were to be controlled and then found that they were not controlled. That will happen again unless the Government come up with the answers to the points that have been raised in the amendments.
Amendment No. 94 seeks to amend the interpretation Clause. The amendment tries to interpret the phrase which is contained in the prices part of the Bill which relates to… transactions of the same description…'What does that mean? The Undersecretary of State never attempted to tell us. If the Government prefer another interpretation, let us have it in the interpretation clause so that the matter can be challenged.
The Government are saying to housewives "You are in the front line in the battle against inflation." Selsdon Man's theme song is "Shop around". But if the housewives are to be able to do that, they must be given the necessary weapons. It is impossible to shoo around effectively without unit pricing. Ministers and probably most hon. Members, certainly male Members, do far too little shopping or shopping around. Only two weeks ago, in a town in my constituency, I attempted to compare a range of prices in London food shops, which were included in an article published by the Economist, with the prices in five local shops. I found that it was almost impossible to compare even a range of eight products which are fairly standardised and common. The Economist quoted a 15-oz. tin of tomato soup—but could I find such a tin in any of the five shops? There were 14½-oz. and 15½-oz. tins but no 15-oz. tins. As a result, I was making complicated calculations on the back of an envelope. The manager thought that his Member of Parliament had gone bonkers. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Managers of shops do not have many votes, but the shoppers knew what I was doing and they did not think I had gone bonkers.
There was a shopping feature, which the hon. Member for Gloucester (Mrs.
479 Sally Oppenheim) has already mentioned, in the Sunday Times of 5th November. The feature illustrated only too clearly what can happen when there is not an effective unit pricing system. The feature was concerned with various multipacks. It mentioned the Mars Christmas selection box. It said that the recommended retail price of that selection box was 25p. The selection box contains Mars products of a standard nature which individually add to 21p. The contents are not listed on the back so that it is difficult for the shopper-around, the hero or heroine of the Government, to see what is contains. Mars says that the difference of 4p is the cost of the packaging and that it costs 3.2p to produce or, with the retailer's margin, 4.7p, so that the selection box, according to Mars, offers 4.7p better value. However, one may not want to pay the extra money for the pack. It is made to look as if one is getting a bargain when in fact one is not.
The Sunday Times pointed out that the same thing applies to multipacks of Golden Wonder crisps. Such a pack is comprised of six individual packets. The multipack costs 15p and the individual packs cost 3p, so that six individual packets would cost 18p. It looks as though one is getting 18p worth of goods for 15p. But one is not, because the size and contents of the packets put in the multipacks are reduced. It is impossible to tell what is in them. The packets are not labelled, either the individual packets or the multipacks. To compare the packets and the packs, the housewife would have to buy an individual packet of crisps elsewhere or in the same shop and then take the multipack apart and put the individual packet and the multipack packet on to scales to see whether they were the same thing. This is a tremendous loophole in the present policy.
Unless the Government want to build up great cynicism on the part of the consumers, they had better admit whether they think prices can be controlled and whether they have the weapons to do it, or whether they think that prices cannot be controlled. If that is what the Government think, they must say so. The Under-Secretary of State said that unit pricing is complicated, which we knew, but to say that it cannot be done in this 480 Bill is nonsense. If it is not done in this Bill, the Bill will not work and price control will not work. I want price control to work as far as possible.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ The Minister for Trade and Consumer Affairs (Sir Geoffrey Howe)
Amendment No. 21 and Amendment No. 94 both seek to elaborate the phrase in the Billtransactions of the same descriptionThey seek to define the meaning of the phrase by reference to certain factors. But they select different factors. However, one recognises the purpose underlying them.
The hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Carter) gave more examples than any other hon. Member of the way in which products and packages can vary in quantity, content and quality, but it would not be possible in this or any other Bill of a manageable length in any legislative circumstances to include a definition that would cover all these kinds of points. The words "of the same description" mean what they say. Remedies in respect of transactions where prices have varied in relation totransactions of the same descriptionwould arise once the Minister had made an order against the trader or retailer in respect of them and it is possible, by the provisions of paragraph 1(1) of the schedule, in such an order to define any expression used in the clause, including the one which the Liberal Amendment, No. 94, seeks to define to a certain extent.
§ Mr. Biffen
Does my right hon. and learned Friend intend to give guidance to the CBI or the retail consortia so that when they write to their members they can indicate roughly what criteria should be held in mind? If he intends to give such guidance, will he publish it in HANSARD, because Parliament should have at least parity of information with those bodies?
§ Sir G. Howe
The guidance is essentially contained in the Bill. The object of the policy, which is well understood both inside and outside the Committee, is to ensure as far as possible that prices and margins are not varied. The best people to understand the impact on their 481 products of any variations they are setting about introducing are members of the CBI and of the retail consortia, because they have in the first place accepted the necessity for these provisions and have given their undertakings of support for them on behalf of their members.
§ Sir G. Howe
My hon. Friend presses me from a sedentary position, which is unusual for someone of his elegance. The guidelines are best known to those who are producing and marketing and managing and retailing these goods. The provision means what it says—that transactions of the same description should be carried through at the same price, and the powers, when it comes to the enforcement aspect, which involves the making of an order, are sufficient to deal with any unjustified variations in respect of which it is necessary to take the powers.
The point raised on Amendment No. 73 is in relation to the problem of temporary discounts. The hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Pardoe) dealt with this. This relates to special offers which are part of the normal trade. I mean by this the special offers on a short-term pattern. In many supermarkets, for example, from week to week two or three items are selected as discount items, and they may vary from week to week. They are in a true sense special items designed to attract the customer in that period. The position is that where special offers are part of the normal trade, withdrawal of one special offer should be matched by the introduction of another of equivalent value so that overall margins are not increased. That is the normal pattern of trading of that kind. In other cases, retailers are being advised that they may revert to their normal prices. If there is an exceptional special offer—which is literally an exception and not part of the normal pattern of trade—they are advised that they may revert to the normal price.
Then there are the cases where the retailer has habitually sold at a discount, possibly cases where the manufacturer's imprint is on the goods saying that the discount is running over a long period. This, in effect, becomes something close to the manufacturer's recommended retail 482 price. Where that has been established as the habitual price at which the product is sold, the discount is the normal price and any increase in price would be inadmissible.
The point raised on Amendment No. 49 was in relation to unit pricing. A number of hon. Members have discussed this, including my hon. Friends the Members for Gloucester (Mrs. Sally Oppenheim) and for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward Taylor) and the hon. Members for Cornwall, North and Birmingham, Northfield. I make it plain that I appreciate, as anyone does who has studied the problem, the intrinsic value of unit pricing as a means of assisting the consumer to compare the goods she is seeking to buy. I know also that it has been adopted voluntarily. Sainbury's has been mentioned as an example where it has been adopted and found useful. I am aware of the understandable pressure to move further along this front so as to make it a mandatory provision over a wide range of goods. It has been adopted in at least one European country and in a small number of the states of the United States.
I am in no sense unsympathetic to the idea in principle but it has difficulties. The hon. Member for Cornwall, North mocked in advance a sentence before I spoke, so to speak, but it is unrealistic for people interested in the consumer case to ignore the difficulties. For example, to introduce unit pricing across the retail service would impose a substantial additional burden of cost in small retail outlets, which is why in the United States a substantial proportion of them are omitted or exempted from the provisions.
§ Mr. Cormack
In the last Session of Parliament there was a Private Member's Bill which would have given the Secretary of State permissive powers over the whole range. Why not bring back that Bill, which got right through Committee stage, and put it through quickly now?
§ Sir G. Howe
I have studied that Bill and some, though not all, of the debates which took place on it. I think my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock (Mr. Cormack) probably understands the problem better than most people. I do not want to elaborate now on the difficulties involved. The point in this debate is that to try to introduce this important new 483 principle in the context of an interim provisions measure going through for a short-term standstill would be to do less than justice to the arguments, even in favour of unit pricing, and it could not be taken on board by the retail trade in the context of the standstill without immediately contributing to increases in the prices of goods it has to handle.
Amendment No. 47 deals with the publication as far as practicable of price lists. To require that all price lists should be published in respect of goods, setting out the prices at which they were being sold at the commencement of the standstill, would not be possible. Quite apart from seasonal variations in prices, which applies to large sections of the food trade, the number of products which would have to be dealt with in that way would make it difficult to enforce without an increase in costs. The United States, at the beginning of its standstill period, tried it out but I understand that its experience confirms our doubts about the practicability of making that kind of requirement.
The suggestion was made on Amendment No. 17 for recovery of overpayment. The amendment itself, however, recognises that there is a limit to the scope of such aspirations because it uses the words "where practicable". I am not persuaded that it would be practicable to include a cash recovery provision in the context of a short-term standstill measure of this kind. The impact of its incidence would be erratic because it would arise only where people had offended after an order against them had been made, and it would therefore be random in the way it benefited particular consumers. The courts will have their ordinary powers to impose fines—and substantial fines—to ensure that unlawful pricing does not pay, and that is the principal object of the exercise. To include the concept of reimbursement as an additional penalty in that random way during a short-term standstill would not be a valuable addition to the Bill.
I apologise to the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) for being out of the Chamber during his speech for rather longer than I had hoped. He mentioned the relationship between the provisions of paragraph 4 of the schedule and those of the European Communities Act. As I have said at 484 least once in the context of these debates, the intention is that the standstill should apply to all the prices of the nationalised industries. The Bill is drafted against that background and it is drafted to meet an emergency situation. It is in that context that one must consider the effect of paragraph 4(1).
There is nothing in paragraph 4(1), nor anywhere else in the Bill, in contradiction with our obligations under the Treaty of Accession. There must be many other Statutes on the Statute Book that include powers of that kind and that can be exercised in conflict with treaty obligations of various kinds. The freeze established under Clause 2 has to be activated by ministerial order or notice before there is any statutory provision in respect of it. It would be only at that point, if the Government were to exercise powers, that one could consider whether that exercise was in conflict with our Community obligations.
As I have said, and as my hon. Friend the Chief Secretary said last night, the Government are well aware of the obligations flowing from the Treaty of Accession, just as the Communities are well aware, as was demonstrated not only at the summit conference but at the Finance Ministers' conference, of the scale and nature of the problems that the Bill is designed to tackle. One expects that the Community will understand the nature of the problems and the standstill short-term nature of these temporary provisions. It is against that background that any exercise of paragraph 4(1) would arise.
§ Mr. Bruce-Gardyne
Will my right hon. and learned Friend clear up one simple matter? Is it the Government's estimation that the basing point pricing system of the British Steel Corporation is in conformity with the provisions of Clause 2?
§ Sir G. Howe
There is no necessary conflict between the basing point system and the provisions of Clause 2. That basing point system is a subject separate from the central question of price regulation.
Of course a standstill provision of this kind, even when introduced for 90 days with the possibility of extension, is inevitably a measure largely depending on the co-operation and support it receives 485 from the trading community and the community as a whole. As my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester said, that is evidenced by the extent to which the representatives of the trading organisations have pledged their support to the policy and by the extent to which they have been implementing it and have been withdrawing price increases already carried through. It is upon that basis and with that timescale that I believe the provisions that are under criticism by the amendments should be allowed to stand in exactly their present form.
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Fred Peart (Workington)
The Minister was in some difficulty. To guillotine a Bill of this nature is a disgrace, and I am glad that my right hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) and my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock (Dr. Dickson Mabon) stressed that so important an issue cannot be adequately debated in Committee on the Floor of the House because of the lack of time.
Steel prices are important, and the right hon. and learned Gentleman did not answer the questions on that subject. He said that an order would have to be introduced, but that, of course, is why we are having the Bill, and the Bill without an order would be useless. The whole purpose of the exercise is to give Ministers power to introduce orders to control prices and wages and so on. I was surprised by that reply.
I represent a constituency with a major interest in the steel industry and many of us are watching these developments in the industry from the viewpoint of the unions and from the viewpoint of managements I am glad that the Minister was pressed by hon. Members on both sides of the Committee for more information on this subject. I hope that we shall return to it.
The time allocated to the Minister did not permit him to deal with all the detailed matters. That was not entirely his fault, but he must accept responsibility. Not to be able to answer detailed questions makes a mockery of our debates. But there has not been sufficient time for Government attitudes to be fully revealed. That is disgraceful and I make a strong protest about it.
486 I intend to deal specifically with food and food prices. The Under-Secretary concentrated some of his time on this important subject. He had to turn topsyturvy to make that speech after his speeches on the subject in opposition. How long he can remain in his office supporting policies that he bitterly condemned when they were pursued by the Labour Government I do not know, but he is not the only one.
The Prime Minister himself, in that famous speech at Carshalton that has been quoted by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, deplored a wages and prices policy, as did other leading Conservatives at that time. They believed in a free-for-all. Over and over again the Prime Minister told me in reply to my questions that free competition must be allowed as being the only way to lower prices.
I am glad that the trade unions have stood firm on this subject. On the day the House debated food prices, Mr. Feather, the General Secretary of the TUC. was reported by The Guardian of 3rd November to have said:The TUC was dismayed to find that the Government was inflexibly resistant to their suggestions that firm controls should be exercised on the prices of essential commodities.The TUC has been consistent throughout, but there has been no sympathetic response from the Government.
In that major debate on food prices, senior Ministers failed to give adequate replies. I am sorry that the Leader of the House is not present today, because he was the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food at the time. I congratulate the hon. Lady on becoming Under-Secretary and I personally wish her well, but the former Minister of Agriculture was a high price man who said over and over again that we ought to have higher prices. How can he talk of freezing wages and having price restraint in view of what he has done and in view of what has happened in his Ministry?
Again we have quoted prices which have risen, the rate of increase and how that increase has been accelerated under the present Government. Well may the Leader of the House say, as he did yesterday as reported at col. 222:I believe that the whole country is now fed up with increases in prices and wages 487 487 which merely follow each other in a vicious spiral."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th November, 1972; Vol. 846, c. 222.]Who has been responsible for price increases? Certainly not the trade unions.
§ Mr. Peart
This policy has been deliberately pursued by Her Majesty's Ministers.
I am sorry for the Under-Secretary. The hon. Lady is working with a Minister who is on record as defending and believing in a high price policy and wishing to change the cheap food policy which we pursued for many years. How hypocritical can Ministers be today when they seek to push this measure through?
Hon. Members used to chide me when I was Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food for the policies that the Labour Government pursued. The hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Pardoe) said that our policies on prices failed. I do not believe they failed in relation to food prices.
Yesterday my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Alfred Morris) in a Written Question asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Foodif he will list the movements in retail food price levels, month by month, from October, 1964, to the latest date for which figures are available.I will not weary the Committee with the full details of those figures. We secured relative control over price increases. There was no rapid acceleration of prices such as we have seen during the last two years under a Conservative Administration. I will give the figures for September which relate to a base of 100 in January, 1962. The Minister said:The following table shows that movement of the Index of Retail Food Prices from mid-October, 1964, to mid-September, 1972, the latest date for which information is available."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th November, 1972; Vol. 846, c. 78.]The figure for September, 1971, is 157.6. By September, 1972, that figure had jumped to 172.4. Taking the figure from September, 1970–140.6—under a Conservative Administration it had jumped to 157.6 in one year, an increase of 17 per cent., and to 172.4, another 14.8 per cent., in the last year. How can the 488 Government claim to have sought to take price increases seriously? The record is there. The Government have failed. The Bill demonstrates the Government's failure to control prices, and I believe the country knows it.
I have already mentioned that our policies had a measure of success. We tried to cover all prices. That is why one of our amendments deals with all prices. In paragraph 5 of our White Paper, "Prices and Incomes Policy: An 'Early Warning' System", Cmnd. 2808, for which I had responsibility, we stated:Because of the importance of food to the cost of living the Government feel that close attention must be paid to all food prices.We spelt out there in more detail what we should do. In an appendix to that White Paper we outlined the early warning and constant watch system. I believe that that system worked. We had cooperation from trade and industry. My then Under-Secretaries along with myself met the trade day after day, week after week. They worked well together and had good co-operation. Therefore, I do not say that that policy did not succeed. In our early warning system we covered bread, flour, biscuits, cake, breakfast cereals, meat pies, mentioned by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward Taylor), canned meat, canned fish, quick-frozen fish, margarine, lard and compound fats, chocolate products, canned fruit, tea, spirits, beer, and so on. We achieved success. We had a constant watch system on important commodities which were affected by seasonal variations and international trading relations, referred to by the hon. Member for Brighouse and Spenborough (Mr. Proudfoot), which dealt with carcase meat, bacon, poultry, fresh vegetables, fish, sugar, cheese and butter. Our policy succeeded. The policy of the present Administration has not succeeded.
There are complications regarding the food industry and there are matters on which we want answers. I understand that the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food recently met the trade. Last week the Meat Trades Journal reported that the Minister was expected to make a detailed statement outlining the plan for controlling prices at the beginning of next week. That would be this week. Why have we not yet had a detailed plan? 489 Must we rely on the White Paper before us, "A Programme For Controlling Inflation: The First Stage", Command 5125? Are we to have further details? Why has the Minister for Trade and Consumer Affairs not made any announcement about that? Is there to be a statement?
I have a specific question for the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. We are to have a price review. I understand that that price review is to be moved forward because of our participation in the European Communities. The price review will run parallel with the European Communities' price review procedures. The farmers' leader, Mr. Henry Plumb, is on record as saying that inevitably at the price review farmers' costs will have to be taken into account. Workers' wage increases, the cost of fertilisers, feeding stuffs, and many other matters, make a grand total of nearly £100 million. Will there be a freeze on agricultural prices? How will the price review procedures be affected by this standstill which will inevitably cover this period?
Later my hon. Friends will be debating agricultural workers' wages. I hope that the Government will concede that theirs is an exceptional case. The Government's attitude to farmers' prices and farm workers' wages will in the end affect the
§ prices of basic commodities and have a serious effect on the consumer.
§ My right hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) asked for clarification about steel prices. The same applies to Community farm prices. When we go into the Community, on 1st January, we are bound to phase our prices into Community prices, which means that there will be increases. Therefore, we have a right to press the Minister on the Government's attitude towards the European Communities Act and their obligations to the Communities.
§ The part of the Bill dealing with food prices reveals a measure of Government bankruptcy concerning their policy of helping the consumer. I have no confidence in Her Majesty's Ministers. I believe that the Minister for Trade and Consumer Affairs may have made one or two legal points, but he did not adequately reply to the debate. For these reasons, as we face the fall of the guillotine, I believe that the Government will not only attack parliamentary traditions and procedures, but will not help the consumer and that in the end their policy will be exposed as a sham.
§ Question put, That the Amendment be made:—
§ The Committee divided: Ayes 275, Noes 302.493
|Division No. 10.]||AYES||[7.0 p.m.|
|Abse, Leo||Carmichael, Neil||Duffy, A. E. P.|
|Albu, Austen||Carter, Ray (Birmingh'm, Northfield)||Dunn, James A.|
|Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.)||Carter-Jones, Lewis (Eccles)||Dunnett, Jack|
|Allen, Scholefield||Castle, Rt. Hn. Barbara||Eadie, Alex|
|Archer, Peter (Rowley Regis)||Clark, David (Colne Valloy)||Edelman, Maurice|
|Ashley, Jack||Cocks, Michael (Bristol, S.)||Edwards, Robert (Bilston)|
|Ashton, Joe||Cohen, Stanley||Edwards, William (Merioneth)|
|Atkinson, Norman||Concannon, J. D.||Ellis, Tom|
|Bagier, Gordon A. T.||Conlan, Bernard||English, Michael|
|Barnes, Michael||Corbet, Mrs. Freda||Evans, Fred|
|Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)||Cox, Thomas (Wandsworth, C )||Ewing, Harry|
|Barnett, Joel (Heywood and Royton)||Cronin, John||Faulds, Andrew|
|Baxter, William||Crosland, Rt. Hn. Anthony||Fernyhough, Rt. Hn. E.|
|Beaney, Alan||Crossman, Rt. Hn. Richard||Fisher, Mrs. Doris (B'ham, Ladywood)|
|Benn, Rt. Hn. Anthony Wedgwood||Cunningham, G. (Islington, S.W.)||Fitch, Alan (Wigan)|
|Bennett, James (Glasgow, Bridgeton)||Cunningham, Dr. J. A. (Whitehaven)||Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston)|
|Bidwell, Sydney||Dalyell, Tarn||Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)|
|Bishop, E. S.||Darling, Rt. Hn. George||Foley, Maurice|
|Blenkinsop, Arthur||Davidson, Arthur||Foot, Michael|
|Boardman, H. (Leigh)||Davies, Denzil (Llanelly)||Ford, Ben|
|Booth, Albert||Davies, G. Elfed (Rhondda, E.)||Forrester, John|
|Bottomley, Rt. Hn. Arthur||Davies, Ifor (Gower)||Fraser, John (Norwood)|
|Boyden, James(Bishop Auckland)||Davis, Clinton (Hackney, C.)||Freeson, Reginald|
|Bradley, Tom||Davis, Terry (Bromsgrove)||Galpern, Sir Myer|
|Brown, Robert C.(N'c'tle-u-Tyne, W.)||Deakins, Eric||Garrett, W. E.|
|Brown, Hugh D. (G'gow, Provan)||de Freitas, Rt. Hn. Sir Geoffrey||Gilbert, Dr. John|
|Brown, Ronald(Shoreditch & F'bury)||Delargy, Hugh||Ginsburg, David (Dewsbury)|
|Buchan, Norman||Dell, Rt. Hn. Edmund||Golding, John|
|Buchanan, Richard (G'gow, Sp'burn)||Dempsey, James||Gourlay, Harry|
|Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green)||Doig, Peter||Grant, George (Morpeth)|
|Callaghan, Rt. Hn. James||Dormand, J. D.||Grant, John D. (Islington, E.)|
|Campbell, I. (Dunbartonshire, W.)||Douglas, Dick (Stirlingshire, E.)||Griffiths, Eddie (Brightside)|
|Cant, R. B.||Douglas-Mann, Bruce||Griffiths, Will (Exchange)|
|Hamilton, James (Bothwell)||McElhone, Frank||Robertson, John (Paisley)|
|Hamilton, William (Fife, N.)||McGuire, Michael||Roderick, Caerwyn E.(Brc'n&R'dnor)|
|Hamling, William||Mackenzie, Gregor||Rodgers, William (Stockton-on-Tees)|
|Hannan, William (G'gow, Maryhill)||Mackie, John||Roper, John|
|Hardy, Peter||Mackintosh, John P.||Rose, Paul B.|
|Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)||Maclennan, Robert||Ross, Rt. Hn. William (Kilmarnock)|
|Hart, Rt. Hn. Judith||McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, C.)||Rowlands, Ted|
|Hattersley, Roy||McNamara, J. Kevin||Sandelson, Neville|
|Healey, Rt. Hn. Denis||Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield, E.)||Sheldon, Robert (Ashton-under-Lyne)|
|Heffer, Eric S.||Marks, Kenneth||Shore, Rt. Hn. Peter (Stepney)|
|Hooson, Emlyn||Marquand, David||Short, Rt.Hn.Edward (N'c'tle-u-Tyne)|
|Horam, John||Marsden, F.||Short, Mrs. Renée (W'hampton.N.E.)|
|Houghton, Rt. Hn. Douglas||Marshall, Dr. Edmund||Silkin, Rt. Hn. John (Deptford)|
|Howell, Denis (Small Heath)||Mason, Rt. Hn. Roy||Silkin, Hn. S. C. (Dulwich)|
|Huckfield, Leslie||Mayhew, Christopher||Sillars, James|
|Hughes, Rt. Hn. Cledwyn (Anglesey)||Meacher, Michael||Silverman, Julius|
|Hughes, Mark (Durham)||Mellish, Rt. Hn. Robert||Skinner, Dennis|
|Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen, N.)||Mendelson, John||Small, William|
|Hughes, Roy (Newport)||Mikardo, Ian||Smith, John (Lanarkshire, N.)|
|Hunter, Adam||Millan, Bruce||Spearing, Nigel|
|Irvine, Rt. Hn. Sir Arthur (Edge Hill)||Miller, Dr. M. S.||Spriggs, Leslie|
|Janner, Greville||Milne, Edward||Stallard, A. W.|
|Jay, Rt. Hn. Douglas||Mitchell, R. C. (S'hampton, Itchen)||Steel, David|
|Jeger, Mrs. Lena||Molloy, William||Stewart, Rt. Hn. Michael (Fulham)|
|Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)||Morgan, Elystan (Cardiganshire)||Stoddart, David (Swindon)|
|Jenkins, Rt. Hn. Roy (Stechford)||Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)||Stonehouse, Rt. Hn. John|
|John, Brynmor||Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)||Strang, Gavin|
|Johnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.)||Morris, Rt. Hn. John (Aberavon)||Strauss, Rt. Hn. G. R.|
|Johnson, James (K'ston-on-Hull, W.)||Moyle, Roland||Summerskill, Hn. Dr. Shirley|
|Johnson, Walter (Derby, S.)||Mulley, Rt. Hn. Frederick||Swain, Thomas|
|Johnston, Russell (Inverness)||Murray, Ronald King||Thomas, Rt.Hn.George (Cardiff, W.)|
|Jones, Barry (Flint, E.)||Oakes, Gordon||Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)|
|Jones, Dan (Burnley)||Ogden, Eric||Thomson, Rt. Hn. G. (Dundee, E.)|
|Jones, Rt. Hn. Sir Elwyn (W. Ham, S.)||O'Halloran, Michael||Tinn, James|
|Jones, Gwynoro (Carmarthen)||O'Malley, Brian||Tomney, Frank|
|Jones, T. Alec (Rhondda, W.)||Oram, Bert||Torney, Tom|
|Judd, Frank||Orbach, Maurice||Tuck, Raphael|
|Kaufman, Gerald||Orme, Stanley||Urwin, T. W.|
|Kelley, Richard||Oswald, Thomas||Varley, Eric G.|
|Kerr, Russell||Padley, Walter||Wainwright, Edwin|
|Kinnock, Neil||Paget, R. T.||Walden, Brian (B'm'ham, All Saints)|
|Lambie, David||Palmer, Arthur||Walker, Harold (Doncaster)|
|Lamborn, Harry||Pannell, Rt. Hn. Charles||Wallace, George|
|Lamond, James||Pardoe, John||Watkins, David|
|Latham, Arthur||Parker, John (Dagenham)||Weitzman, David|
|Lawson, George||Parry, Robert (Liverpool, Exchange)||Wellbeloved, James|
|Leadbitter, Ted||Peart, Rt. Hn. Fred||Wells, William (Walsall, N.)|
|Lee, Rt. Hn. Frederick||Pendry, Tom||White, James (Glasgow, Pollok)|
|Leonard, Dick||Perry, Ernest G.||Whitehead, Phillip|
|Lestor, Miss Joan||Prentice, Rt. Hn. Reg.||Whitlock, William|
|Lewis, Arthur (W. Ham, N.)||Prescott, John||Willey, Rt. Hn. Frederick|
|Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)||Price, J. T. (Westhoughton)||Williams, Alan (Swansea. W.)|
|Lipton, Marcus||Price, William (Rugby)||Williams, Mrs. Shirley (Hitchin)|
|Lomas, Kenneth||Probert, Arthur||Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)|
|Loughlin, Charles||Reed, D. (Sedgefield)||Wilson, William (Coventry, S.)|
|Lyon, Alexander W. (York)||Rees, Merlyn (Leeds, S.)||Woof, Robert|
|Lyons, Edward (Bradford, E.)||Rhodes, Geoffrey||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson||Richard, Ivor||Mr. Joseph Harper and|
|McBride, Nell||Roberts, Albert (Normanton)||Mr. Donald Coleman.|
|McCartney, Hugh||Roberts, Rt. Hn.Goronwy (Caernarvon)|
|Adley, Robert||Boardman, Tom (Leicester, S.w.)||Chapman, Sydney|
|Alison, Michael (Barkston Ash)||Boscawen, Hn. Robert||Chataway, Rt. Hn. Christopher|
|Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead)||Bossom, Sir Clive||Chichester-Clark. R.|
|Amery, Rt. Hn. Julian||Bowden, Andrew||Churchill, W. S.|
|Archer, Jeffrey (Louth)||Braine, Sir Bernard||Clark, William (Surrey, E.)|
|Astor, John||Bray, Ronald||Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)|
|Atkins, Humphrey||Brewis, John||Clegg, Walter|
|Awdry, Daniel||Brinton, Sir Tatton||Cockeram, Eric|
|Baker, Kenneth (St. Marylebone)||Brocklebank-Fowler, Christopher||Cooke, Robert|
|Baker, W. H. K. (Banff)||Brown, Sir Edward (Bath)||Coombs, Derek|
|Balniel, Rt. Hn. Lord||Bruce-Gardyne, J.||Cooper, A. E.|
|Barber, Rt. Hn. Anthony||Bryan, Sir Paul||Cordle, John|
|Batsford, Brian||Buchanan-Smith, Alick(Angus, N&M)||Cormack, Patrick|
|Beamish, Col. Sir Tufton||Buck, Antony||Costain, A. P.|
|Bell, Ronald||Bullus, Sir Eric||Critchley, Julian|
|Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torquay)||Burden, F. A.||Crouch, David|
|Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gosport)||Butler, Adam (Bosworth)||Crowder, F. P.|
|Benyon, W.||Campbell, Rt. Hn.G.(Moray & Nairn)||Dalkeith, Earl of|
|Berry, Hn. Anthony||Carlisle, Mark||Davies, Rt. Hn. John (Knutsford)|
|Biffen, John||Carr, Rt. Hn. Robert||d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry|
|Biggs-Davison, John||Channon, Paul||d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Maj.-Gen. Jack|
|Dean, Paul||Kaberry, Sir Donald||Raison, Timothy|
|Deedes, Rt. Hn. W. F.||Kellett-Bowman, Mrs. Elaine||Ramsden, Rt. Hn. James|
|Digby, Simon Wingfield||Kershaw, Anthony||Rawlinson, Rt. Hn. Sir Peter|
|Dixon, Piers||Kilfedder, James||Redmond, Robert|
|Dodds-Parker, Douglas||Kimball, Marcus||Reed, Laurance (Bolton, E.)|
|Douglas-Home, Rt. Hn. Sir Alec||King, Evelyn (Dorset, S.)||Rees, Peter (Dover)|
|Drayson, G. B.||King, Tom (Bridgwater)||Rees-Davies, W. R.|
|du Cann, Rt. Hn. Edward||Kinsey, J. R.||Renton, Rt. Hn. Sir David|
|Dykes, Hugh||Kirk, Peter||Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon|
|Eden, Rt. Hn. Sir John||Kitson, Timothy||Ridley, Hn. Nicholas|
|Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke)||Knight, Mrs. Jill||Ridsdale, Julian|
|Elliott, R. W. (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne, N.)||Knox, David||Rippon, Rt. Hn. Geoffrey|
|Emery, Peter||Lambton, Lord||Roberts, Michael (Cardiff, N.)|
|Eyre, Reginald||Lamont, Norman||Roberts, Wyn (Conway)|
|Farr, John||Lane, David||Rodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks)|
|Fell, Anthony||Langford-Holt, Sir John||Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)|
|Fenner, Mrs. Peggy||Le Marchant, Spencer||Rost, Peter|
|Finsberg, Geoffrey (Hampstead)||Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)||Russell, Sir Ronald|
|Fookes, Miss Janet||Lloyd, Rt. Hn. Geoffrey (Sut'nC'field)||St. John-Slevas, Norman|
|Fortescue, Tim||Lloyd, Ian (P'tsm'th, Langstone)||Scott, Nicholas|
|Foster, Sir John||Longden, Sir Gilbert||Scott-Hopkins, James|
|Fowler, Norman||Loveridge, John||Shaw, Michael (Sc'b'gh & Whitby)|
|Fox, Marcus||Luce, R. N.||Shelton, William (Clapham)|
|Fraser, Rt. Hn. Hugh(St'fford & Stone)||MacArthur, Ian||Simeons, Charles|
|Fry, Peter||McCrindle, R. A.||Sinclair, Sir George|
|Galbraith, Hn. T. G. D.||McLaren, Martin||Skeet, T. H. H.|
|Gardner, Edward||Maclean, Sir Fitzroy||Smith, Dudley (W'wick & L'mington)|
|Gibson-Watt, David||McMaster, Stanley||Soref, Harold|
|Gilmour, Ian (Norfolk, C.)||Macmillan, Rt.Hn. Maurice (Farnham)||Speed, Keith|
|Gilmour, Sir John (Fife E.)||McNair-Wilson, Michael||Spence, John|
|Glyn, Dr. Alan||NcNair-Wilson, Patrick (New Forest)||Sproat, Iain|
|Godber, Rt. Hn. J. B||Maddan, Martin||Stainton, Keith|
|Goodhart, Philip||Madel, David||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|Gorst, John||Maginnis, John E.||Stewart-Smith, Geoffrey (Belper)|
|Gower, Raymond||Marples, Rt. Hn. Ernest||Stodart, Anthony (Edinburgh, W.)|
|Grant, Anthony (Harlow, C.)||Marten, Neil||Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir M.|
|Gray, Hamish||Mather, Carol||Stokes, John|
|Green, Alan||Maude, Angus||Stuttaford, Dr. Tom|
|Grieve, Percy||Maudling, Rt. Hn. Reginald||Sutcliffe, John|
|Griffiths, Eldon (Bury St. Edmunds)||Mawby, Ray||Tapsell, Peter|
|Grylls, Michael||Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J.||Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)|
|Gummer, J. Selwyn||Meyer, Sir Anthony||Taylor, Edward M.(G'gow, Cathcart)|
|Gurden, Harold||Mills, Peter (Torrington)||Taylor, Frank (Moss Side)|
|Hall, Miss Joan (Keighley)||Mills, Stratton (Belfast, N.)||Taylor, Robert (Croydon, N.W.)|
|Hall, John (Wycombe)||Mitchell, Lt.-Col.C.(Aberdeenshire.W)||Tebbit, Norman|
|Hall-Davis, A. G. F.||Mitchell, David (Basingstoke)||Temple, John M.|
|Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)||Moate, Roger||Thatcher, Rt. Hn. Mrs. Margaret|
|Hannam, John (Exeter)||Molyneaux, James||Thomas, John Stradling (Monmouth)|
|Harrison, Brian (Maldon)||Money, Ernie||Thomas, Rt. Hn. Peter (Hendon, S.)|
|Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye)||Monks, Mrs. Connie||Thompson, Sir Richard (Croydon, S.)|
|Haselhurst, Alan||Monro, Hector||Tilney, John|
|Hastings, Stephen||Montgomery, Fergus||Trew, Peter|
|Havers, Sir Michael||More, Jasper||Tugendhat, Christopher|
|Hawkins, Paul||Morgan-Giles, Rear-Adm.||Turton, Rt. Hn. Sir Robin|
|Hay, John||Morrison, Charles||Van Straubenzee, W. R.|
|Hayhoe, Barney||Mudd, David||Vaughan, Dr. Gerard|
|Heath, Rt. Hn. Edward||Murton, Oscar||Vickers, Dame Joan|
|Heseltine, Michael||Nabarro, Sir Gerald||Walder, David (Clitheroe)|
|Hicks, Robert||Neave, Airey||Walker, Rt. Hn. Peter (Worcester)|
|Hiley, Joseph||Nicholls, Sir Harmar||Walker-Smith, Rt. Hn. Sir Derek|
|Hill, John E. B. (Norfolk, S.)||Noble, Rt. Hn. Michael||Wall, Patrick|
|Hill, James (Southampton, Test)||Nott, John||Walters, Dennis|
|Holland, Philip||Onslow, Cranley||Ward, Dame Irene|
|Holt, Miss Mary||Oppenheim, Mrs. Sally||Warren, Kenneth|
|Hordern, Peter||Orr, Capt. L. P. S.||Weatherill, Bernard|
|Hornby, Richard||Osborn, John||Wells, John (Maidstone)|
|Hornsby-Smith, Rt.Hn.Dame Patricia||Owen, Idris (Stockport, N.)||White, Roger (Gravesend)|
|Howe, Rt. Hn. Sir Geoffrey||Page, Rt. Hn. Graham (Crosby)||Wiggin, Jerry|
|Howell, David (Guildford)||Page, John (Harrow, W.)||Wilkinson, John|
|Howell, Ralph (Norfolk, N.)||Parkinson, Cecil||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Hunt, John||Percival, Ian||Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick|
|Hutchison, Michael Clark||Peyton, Rt. Hn. John||Wood, Rt. Hn. Richard|
|Iremonger, T. L.||Pike, Miss Mervyn||Woodhouse, Hn. Christopher|
|Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)||Pink, R. Bonner||Woodnult, Mark|
|James, David||Pounder, Rafton||Worsley, Marcus|
|Jenkin, Patrick (Woodford)||Price, David (Eastleigh)||Wylie, Rt. Hn. N. R.|
|Jennings, J. C. (Burton)||Prior, Rt. Hn. J. M. L.||Younger, Hn. George|
|Jessel, Toby||Proudfoot, Wilfred||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Johnson Smith G. (E. Grinstead)||Pym, Rt. Hn. Francis||Mr. Victor Goodhew and|
|Jones, Arthur (Northants, S.)||Quennell, Miss J. M||Mr. Michael Jopling.|
|Joseph, Rt. Hn Sir Keith|
§ Question accordingly negatived495
§ The Chairman (Sir Robert Grant-Ferris)
I have to inform the Committee that I have selected for discussion with Amendment No. 55 a manuscript amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Heywood and Royton (Mr. Joel Barnett). The amendment is in the same terms as Amendment No. 12, in page 2, line 2, after ' work ' insert:'except agricultural work under a contract made in accordance with a national agreement completed before 7th November 1972'.A separate Division may take place on the manuscript Amendment provided that the Question thereon has been proposed before the guillotine falls. There will not now be a separate Division on Amendment No. 12.
I have also to inform the Committee that I have agreed to the inclusion in the list of amendments grouped for discussion with No. 55 of Amendment No. 108, in page 2, line 36, at end add:'and the Minister shall so consent in respect of the agricultural workers' pay settlement due to come into force on 28th January 1973 and the furniture workers' pay settlement due to come into force on the first pay day in January 1973'.I am sorry that I have to inform the hon. Members for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Loughlin) and Cornwall, North (Mr. Pardoe) that I have been unable to select their amendments for division.
§ [Sir STEPHEN MCADDEN in the Chair]
§ Mr. Harold Walker (Doncaster)
I beg to move Amendment No. 55, in page 2, line 1, leave out subsection (2).
May I express appreciation, Sir Stephen, of the fact that the Chairman of Ways and Means has agreed to accept a manuscript amendment submitted by my hon. Friend the Member for Heywood and Royton (Mr. Joel Barnett). I understand that a Division will be permitted on it. I am sure that this will accord with the wishes of many hon. Members since it deals with one of the issues about which I am sure the whole Committee is concerned.
On at least one aspect of this highly controversial measure, that to which the manuscript amendment refers, there will be a great deal of common ground, which I hope will be reflected in the Lobby—unless of course the Chancellor in his wisdom and sympathy chooses to relieve 496 us of that necessity. I shall try to be as brief as possible out of respect to the many hon. Members who have tabled amendments.
The amendments fall into three broad groupings which have compatible, and to some degree complementary, objectives. First, we say that employment incomes—for so the White Paper describes them—should be excluded from the freeze. Second, if this is rejected, the scope of the Bill should be extended to place it beyond doubt that it applies equally to all incomes. Third, again on the assumption that our attempt to include all incomes is rejected, we believe that the provisions of the Bill should be mitigated so that they bear less hard on those for whom some sympathy has been expressed in all parts of the House and in all parts of the country—namely, the lower paid.
I will be speaking in terms of these three broad propositions rather than dealing in detail with each amendment. I do not mean to imply that the detailed amendments are not worthy of consideration by the Front Bench, but this will enable me to be as brief as possible. Some of the amendments will receive full support from the Opposition Front Bench.
The first proposition to which I wish to refer is that what the White Paper calls employment incomes—namely, wages and salaries—should be exempt. Not the least of my reasons is the argument that was put forward in several speeches on this side yesterday: that it is misleading, indeed illusory, to suppose that wages are only the other side of the prices coin and are therefore responsive to the same sort of treatment. I would say to the Chancellor that I am not making the fruitless kind of chicken-and-egg argument about wages and prices in an inflationary situation. I am arguing about the methods we choose for dealing with them.
It was my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sillars) who last night made the valid point—I was surprised that some hon. Members on the Government side should have smiled—that wages and salaries have a more direct effect on a worker's life than prices. Of course prices are crucially important, but it is obvious that whereas the worker 497 feels completely powerless directly to influence price increases, he is very well aware that, if he chooses to exercise it, he has power to influence the terms and conditions of his employment and his wage or salary.
It is naïve for us to ignore the lesson of the Industrial Relations Act and to assume that the shadow of the law, for good or bad, will necessarily deter a worker from exercising that power in the absence of certain preconditions. The first of these is that he must be convinced by a tangible demonstration that the pressures that will be applied to his wages are being exerted with at least equal force on prices, and particularly those prices which make up the household budget. Nothing that we have heard today has led us to believe that he will be so convinced.
He also has to be convinced that these pressures will also be applied equally to those whose incomes are derived from sources other than wages or salaries. This is a conspicuous weakness of the Bill and it will be alleviated if the Committee accepts some of these amendments—No. 65, No. 66 and others.
Further, the individual worker has to be assured that the policy is being applied with compassion and a spirit of social justice and that there is an understanding of the hardships endured by those at the bottom of the incomes pyramid. All these crucial elements are absent from the Bill.
I put on record again my own longstanding conviction of the need for a prices and incomes policy. Some right hon. and hon. Members will recognise that I suffered dearly for that conviction in the past.
But a policy that will not work is worse than no policy at all. Such a policy can be applicable and effective only where there exists a broad willingness that it should. One of the cardinal principles on which parliamentary democracy rests is that a Government can govern only with the consent of the governed. That willingness will be created only if there is a deep and widespread conviction not only that a prices and incomes policy is necessary but that it will be equitable and just and will aim towards a redistribution of wealth in favour of the under-privileged.
When that climate exists we shall not need to legislate; we shall have the basis 498 for a voluntary agreement. In short, it seems to me, and I say it with the benefit of hindsight and two years' hard experience in trying to administer an incomes policy, that such a policy is right only when it can be implemented without the need for legislation. The Conservatives have spent the last six years or so ensuring the very opposite, ensuring that we had anything but the right climate. Not only did they condemn, deride and sneer at the very concepts they have now laid before Parliament, but the Prime Minister when Leader of the Opposition said from the Dispatch Box words intended to induce workers to defy the law then being introduced by the Labour Government.
For two and a half years the Government have lived upon the philosophy of the free for all. Competition and competition alone should determine prices—profits should be untramelled to provide the resources and incentives for investment. Who can wonder if, after a time, the ordinary working man wants to share that philosophy and the rules by which those who derive their income from profits and dividends live? Who can wonder, if market forces are to be the order of the day, that the working man decides that he too, will live by the market forces? But just as the working man started to get the hang of the Government's philosophy, the Government went into reverse.
For the last six months the Government have been trying to unravel history as fast as they can. The mass conversion to new doctrines—or is it a resurrection of old doctrines?—of Conservative Members seems to surpass anything since the Chinese general baptised his troops with a hosepipe. The people are as bewildered as Pavlov's dogs. Unfortunately the rejection of condemned and discredited doctrinal dogma is only half complete. The Industrial Relations Act, the Housing Finance Act and all the other ideological assaults on the working class remain in force and while they do any legislation on incomes is a non-runner. Even if the atmosphere had not been poisoned by the Government's version of class warfare I doubt whether legislation is the way to proceed to abate incomes, and I say that with the benefit of some experience in these matters, as the scars between my shoulder-blades will testify.
499 The only useful contribution that legislation can make to an effective incomes policy is when it can create the right climate. That is the rôle of legislation. Such legislation should be aimed at creating equality and the redistribution of incomes and wealth. It is typified by the Equal Pay Act. That is the kind of thing to which I am referring and the kind of thing to which some of our amendments, particularly Amendments Nos. 72 and 65, are directed. When the Government claim, as they have done so repeatedly, and as they will claim repeatedly during our debates, that their proposals have broad support, I cannot help but reflect on the number of times I heard that during my Government's term when we were seeking to administer a prices and incomes policy. As long as the policy is an abstraction it will command general support, but the Government must not be surprised by the speed with which that support suddenly evaporates from those individuals and groups to whom it is applied. An incomes policy is always a good thing as long as it is applied to someone else. Two years of trying to apply an income policy convinced me beyond doubt that legislating for incomes restraint is a last desperate expedient likely to cost as much in disrupted industrial relations as it will save in economic terms, unless it is effected with consummate and degrading deviousness.
Let me qualify my earlier remarks when I said that the policy would not work. It will work in certain areas. Those areas will be those groups which do not occupy a key role in the economy, whose bargaining strength is weak, and I await with a sad curiosity the first confrontation between a powerful, well-organised group and whichever Secretary of State is unfortunate enough to occupy the hot seat at the time. I await also the first response to a newspaper report of a merchant bankers massive salary increase.
If I may offer the Chancellor the benefit of my sad and chastening education in these matters it would be, "Chuck it now; it is not on". But I do not believe that the Chancellor is any different from the former Solicitor-General. He and the entire Government seem impervious to advice. They do not believe the sincerity of those who offer 500 it because if they did we would not have had the calamitous industrial relations experience that we suffered this year. All the warnings which we gave the Government and which they swept aside when they pressed ahead with their foolish industrial relations legislation have been vindicated. All our prophecies have been fulfilled, and worse. The folly of the Industrial Relations Act is being repeated under the same corrupting hand—the cold, dead hand of the former Solicitor-General.
But if he has already hardened his heart against my advice I wonder whether there is not some comer within his heart where there lurks an element of responsiveness to Amendment No. 72, because it is almost entirely in line with the Government's oft-repeated words and concern for the lower paid. This and the other amendments are directed at people who will be affected by the Government's legislation but who are nevertheless the lower paid. The Government's reaction to the amendments is therefore the acid test of their sincerity.
I recognise that the reference to productivity arrangements in Amendment No. 72 will probably not accord with the Government's philosophy and view. I say that because of the speed with which they dismantled the effective machinery set up by the Labour Government for improving productivity. The Government owe the Labour Government an acknowledgement for the contribution we made to the undoubted upsurge in productivity over the last two years. It is not created overnight. The Chancellor is the first to know that, and I hope that he will acknowledge it.
The foundations for increased productivity are laid over a period of time, and I believe that some of the Labour Government's measures have made a significant contribution to the long-overdue increase in productivity. I like to believe that the measures which we took at the old Department of Employment and Productivity, as it then was. have been of value to that end.
[Miss HARVIE ANDERSON in the Chair]
It is folly for the Government deliberately to rule out continued provision for self-financing inducements within industry and within pay structures 501 which would carry on the process of encouraging people to adapt to new techniques and methods of work.
However, that is not the principal purpose of Amendment No. 72. The purpose is to enable the Committee to express its sympathy and support for the low-paid, a sympathy and support which is reflected in several amendments on the Paper. We have frankly to recognise that it is not always easy to define low pay. It is not merely a matter of pay; it is a question also of making comparisons, across a broad range of terms and conditions of employment, as between one group of workers and another.
We in the House of Commons are not always equipped to make comparisons of that kind. This is the reason why in paragraph (v) of Amendment No. 72 we provide for reference to, so to speak, what the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) aptly described yesterday as that composite animal, the TUCBI.
Let me anticipate the Chancellor's criticism. I do not suggest that it would be an ideal arrangement. I join in some of the criticism which has been levelled at the idea of appearing in some cases to be willing to hand over to outside bodies responsibilities which are properly ours in the House. But Governments have traditionally sought advice from outside bodies. One of the most foolish acts of the present Government in this connection was the undue and totally unnecessary haste with which they set about wringing the neck of the National Board for Prices and Incomes.
At the time when the last Labour Government were entering the final phases of their prices and incomes policy, the Prices and Incomes Board was, it seemed to me then, making a significant contribution to our understanding of what low pay was and the sectors to which that concept applied, and it was making a useful set of proposals for the way ahead. Obviously, it could have been the appropriate agency to help us in these matters. We no longer have such an agency.
At another time and in other circumstances, I might have suggested that we use the Commission for Industrial Relations for this purpose, but I cannot 502 do that, now that the Solicitor-General, as he then was—I forget the precise title of his new incarnation—has tainted and corrupted it by making it the tool of the National Industrial Relations Court. Therefore, since we must identify the areas of low pay and seek to define what low pay is, until the Government provide alternative machinery for so doing, the TUC and the CBI seem to be as appropriate a group of people as any.
If the Chancellor recognises the need for defining areas of low pay and he is prepared to put an alternative before us, we shall be ready to listen. However, that apart, there are some areas on which there is almost universal agreement as to the prevalence of low pay. We identify three of them in our amendment. Other amendments identify others.
For a start, there are the wages council industries—not all of them, but by and large that is so. For example, there is the wages council for the retail distributive trades, about which my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Torney) spoke so powerfully and movingly yesterday. Another area is women's pay, without doubt. The Government say that they are committed to the terms of the Equal Pay Act. Of course they are. They are committed by Parliament and the last Labour Government. If they wanted to uncommit themselves, they would have to legislate, and they are unlikely to face that test.
Words are not enough. It is not sufficient for the Government to keep saying, "We are committed to the principle". We want to see, and the trade unions want to see, something in black and white in the context of this Bill which will prove that the Government will not let anything detract from that commitment to the women of this country.
§ Mr. Raymond Gower (Barry)
I am not unsympathetic to some of the points which the hon. Gentleman makes, but I must put this point to him. One of the major difficulties which we face is that we have asked a lot of people to observe price restraint, and we are compelling them to carry on as far as possible without putting their prices up, yet many of the people to whom the hon. Gentleman is now referring, are, unfortunately, employed in the very areas in which we are calling for that restraint. If they 503 had pay increases, the result would be to put great pressure on the very people who have been asked to keep prices stable.
§ Mr. Walker
I make two observations in reply to that. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman understood the gist of my earlier remarks, and I readily acknowledge that the fault may be mine. First, as I understand it, the White Paper made provision for exemptions in both respects anyhow. Second, we have not been given an assurance—far from it—that there will be a blanket freeze on all prices. The hon. Gentleman seems to base his point on the premise that what is being applied in respect of prices—his assumption being that there will be a universal halt to price increases—should have its equal counterpart in respect of incomes, It is part of my complaint that the freeze is being applied more rigorously to incomes than to prices.
I turn now to the group about whom there seems to be little doubt anywhere, the farm workers. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear.] I note that the reassuring vocal support for that observation comes from all quarters of the Committee. [HON. MEMBERS: "Not all".] Not all quarters, but three-quarters. The Government Front Bench remain gloomily silent.
As recently as 1969, in its report No. 101, the National Board for Prices and Incomes said:We have seen that there are many more low paid workers in agriculture than in other industries … agricultural workers are by a fair margin the lowest paid body of workers of significant size in the country".And there was more besides, confirming the overwhelming case of the agricultural workers at that time, and no one can pretend that the movement of wages since has been such as significantly to change that position.
Nothing demonstrates the present Government's insensitivity, not to say callousness, than the Chancellor's crude setting aside of the agricultural wages board order and his blunt and brusque rejection of back pay implementation. I hope that he will reverse his position on that. Had it been a settlement for any other group, there would have been little question of subjecting it to the requirements of the policy. Does the 504 right hon. Gentleman believe that his sacred dam will be breached if he lets these underpaid workers have their cash from 22nd January, when the policy will have run half its course, we hope?
Not in the most rigorous periods of the Labour Government's policy, beset as we were by the appalling balance of payments legacy left to us, did we ever contemplate making such a mean and miserable step as this. It is one piece of petty penny-pinching which the Government ought to drop right away, unless the Chancellor wants to be remembered as the most miserable Scrooge to rule over the Treasury.
Mrs. Elaine Kellett-owman (Lancaster)
The hon. Gentleman says that never in their most penny-pinching days did the Socialist Government do anything similar regarding agricultural workers' wage arrangements. He and his right hon. Friends have no claim to wear white shirts. I vividly remember, as do many farm workers, that the Socialist Government referred back an award to the agricultural wages board during the 1966 squeeze.
§ Mr. Walker
During the period of the Labour Government's prices and incomes policy no agricultural wages board order was delayed or restricted in its implementation. There are other groups about whom strong arguments can and no doubt will be deployed by my hon. Friends and hon. Members opposite. I forbear from speaking about those cases only to give hon. Members a better chance to deal with them.
We on the Opposition Front Bench no less than my other hon. Friends, will require a sympathetic and positive response from the Government. Otherwise their phraseology about the lower-paid will be exposed as the empty, hollow sham that it no doubt is in reality. Equally we shall expect the Government to disclose their intentions about that other unfortunate group—those whose claims are frozen in the pipeline. In some cases, such as the hospital ancillary workers, they are people who clearly fall within the category of the low-paid. I should like the Chancellor to reply to the point that was not dealt with last night, namely the position of those teachers in London who have been denied a long-promised and long-overdue 505 increase in their London cost-of-living allowance. I understand that this was agreed within the Burnham Committee as long ago as the spring of this year.
§ Mr. Walker
If my hon. Friend catches your eye, Miss Harvie Anderson, he will no doubt confirm this. No doubt he has greater familiarity with this than I. I understand that it was during the summer that the education authorities agreed to an increased London weighting of £200 which was a real increase of £82. This is now to be denied to these people after the Secretary of State for Education and Science had asked for a delay in implementation pending the outcome of the Downing Street talks.
§ Mr. Thomas Cox (Wandsworth, Central)
May I point out, as a London Member, that the amount now to be paid by the Secretary of State for Education and Science is a measly £15 a year?
§ Mr. Walker
No doubt the Chancellor has heard that point and will, unlike the Minister for Trade and Consumer Affairs, who replied last night, deal with the matter as well as the remaining significant points which we have raised. Nothing Jess will do than a clear statement that these increases in the pipeline will be paid.
It is my deepest conviction that incomes do not lend themselves to legislation in the same way as prices do. Nor, on the basis of my former experience, is the policy likely to be other than harmful to industrial relations. I beg the Chancellor to think again. If he will not, I hope he will consider and respond to the argument that has been presented for a mitigation of the policy in respect of those groups of whom I have spoken.
§ Several Hon. Members rose —
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Dr. Dickson Mabon
On a point of order, Miss Harvie Anderson. Before you call the Chancellor may I point out that in the last debate there were eight amendments and potentially six debates. Only three took place. One of the reasons for this was that we got the 506 answer at the beginning, before the speeches were heard. Would it not be better, since there are about 14 possible discussions, for the Chancellor to wait for a reasonable time before making his response rather than have this cavalier treatment—which I am sure he does not intend?
§ The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Anthony Barber)
I appreciate that there are several hon. Members who wish to take part in the debate on this group of amendments. It is right that I should respond at the outset to some of the observations made by the hon. Member for Doncaster (Mr. Harold Walker) and answer some of the extraordinary arguments which he has adduced in support of these amendments. The main amendment is Amendment No. 55—
§ Mr. Arthur Lewis
On a point of order, Miss Harvie Anderson. May I revert to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock (Dr. Dickson Mabon)? There were several hon. Members who were rising when you called the Chancellor. With respect, is it not the case that you could have decided to call any hon. Member on the Government side of the Committee? We know that it is custom and practice for you to call speakers from alternate sides, but had it been your wish, is it not the case that you could have called either an hon. Member on the Government side other than the Chancellor or an hon. Member on this side of the Committee? It is not, with respect, necessary according to Standing Orders for the Chair to call the Chancellor.
§ Mr. Barber
The main amendment in this group is Amendment No. 55 in the name of the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) and several of his hon. and right hon. Friends. It seeks to delete Clause 2(2) and its purpose was made clear by the hon. Member for Doncaster. It is to remove the subject of pay from the scope of the Bill altogether. Whatever may be the merits of some of the other amendments, the Committee knows 507 that this amendment, moved on behalf of the official Opposition, is hypocritical and nonsensical and would have the simple consequence of stimulating price increases all round. The country will not thank the Labour Party for seeking to frustrate the Government's determination to tackle inflation. If this amendment were accepted it would, for all practical purposes, reverse the decision which the House has already taken in giving a Second Reading to the Bill because it would destroy an essential element in it.
§ Mr. Pardoe
Before the right hon. Gentleman develops this theme he must recall that on 25th June, 1968, he voted for an amendment which removed all restraint on incomes from the Prices and Incomes Bill of the Labour Government, which had already received its Second Reading. Why did he do so?
§ Mr. Barber
I have already explained, in the Gracious Speech and on the Second Reading of this Bill, bearing in mind the views which I have constantly expressed and which I still hold about a preference for voluntary arrangements as distinct from statutory ones, that the Government had in all the circumstances reached the conclusion that since the talks with the TUC and the CBI had broken down it was right and in the national interest to introduce such legislation.
The proposals which the hon. Member for Doncaster put forward are inconsistent with the attitude adopted by the TUC representatives towards the end of our talks. The country will also find that this is significant. The TUC proposed in the tripartite talks that there should be statutory control of prices but only voluntary control of incomes. The Government had to tell the TUC that this was not an acceptable basis for agreement. In doing so I believe that the Government had the support of the majority of people. The Prime Minister has already explained—when he made the announcement in the House on 6th November—what happened on this question in the final stages of the talks. He explained that the TUC representatives had been pressing for statutory control of prices without being able to accept statutory control of incomes. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister went on to say: 508I had therefore asked the TUC representatives whether the TUC was prepared to accept either completely voluntary arrangements, or voluntary arrangements backed up by statutory powers over the whole range of any agreement. This issue was so fundamental that it would clearly have been pointless to go on discussing other matters until the answer to this question was known.The TUC agreed to consult its General Council on that point. My right hon. Friend reported the next development as follows:At the end of the meeting on Wednesday, the Government and the CBI made it clear that they would only accept arrangements which were either completely voluntary "—that is, completely voluntary across the board—or were supported by backing-up legislation over their whole range. The representatives of the TUC said that they understood this position and would continue to negotiate on this basis."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 6th November, 1972; Vol. 845, c. 623.]In other words, they would accept either arrangements voluntarily across the whole range or statutory back-up powers across the whole range. The TUC did not make it a breaking point that the proposals for statutory control of prices should not be balanced by statutory control of pay.
It is interesting, to put it mildly—and many people will find it of some significance—that the Parliamentary Labour Party is now taking a quite different view from the view expressed by the TUC at those talks. Indeed, it is taking a much more extreme view. What it is saying in this major amendment is "Statutory control of prices, yes; statutory control of pay," no". That was not the basis on which the talks with the TUC were carried on.
§ Mr. Reg Prentice (East Ham, North)
The right hon. Gentleman has paid eloquent testimony to the flexibility of the TUC in the last few days of the talks. Does he recognise that it makes absolute nonsense of the claims by the Government and their apologists that it was TUC intransigence which broke off the talks?
§ Mr. Barber
I was at the talks, so I know what happened. Various new proposals were put forward by the Prime Minister—and if the right hon. Gentleman will inquire of his colleagues at the TUC he will find that they confirm this—and the TUC, in its wisdom—and it was for 509 it to decide—did not find them to be a basis for discussion. Therefore, it brought the discussions to a conclusion. Those are the facts.
The approach of the official Opposition in the amendment is not merely inconsistent with the basis which was accepted by the TUC, but sheer hypocrisy.
§ Mr. Denis Healey (Leeds, East)
The right hon. Gentleman is trying to construct an interesting debating point. He knows very well that the discussion with the TUC was about the Chequers proposals which involved a policy to control increases in prices and in incomes. The agreement in principle given by the TUC was to continue negotiation on the basis which the right hon. Gentleman has quoted. But the Bill is totally unlike the Chequers proposals. It involves a so-called freeze on prices which, as has been demonstrated in the last week, cannot work. It does not even attempt to apply to two-thirds of food prices or housing—matters which the TUC insisted on including in the Chequers talks. When the Government refused to negotiate on these issues, the talks broke down.
There is no parallel between the agreement in principle given by the TUC to discuss the Chequers proposals on one basis or another and the amendment which we propose. The Bill does not propose to control prices but seeks to establish total, immensely rigid and unjust control of wages.
§ Mr. Barber
The right hon. Gentleman would have done better to have left that aspect of the debate to his hon. Friend. May I remind him of the position—[HON. MEMBERS: "Answer the question."]—which existed when he was a Member of the Labour Government.
§ Mr. Barber
I am answering the point. I will tell the right hon. Gentleman if he will listen and does not lose his temper.
§ Mr. Barber
If the right hon. Gentleman will listen, I will tell him. At no time when he was a member of the Labour Government—
§ Mr. Barber
At no time when the Labour Government were framing their 510 prices and incomes policy did they contemplate anything as ridiculous as is proposed in this amendment. If there were ever a ridiculous proposal, it is this amendment. It is the main proposal on pay put forward in the name of the right hon. Gentleman, and it will be seen by the country for what it is—sheer hypocrisy. It is nonsense to suggest, as the Opposition are suggesting, that we could control prices without effective control of pay, for the simple reason that pay is the biggest single element in costs and, therefore, in most prices.
Since 1969, when the right hon. Member for Leeds, East and his colleagues abandoned any attempt to check pay increases, we have been suffering from wage-and-salary-led inflation. Everyone who is subjected to pay restraint is entitled to expect the effects of his forbearance to be reflected in prices. But the contrary is also true, namely, that without some guarantee of restraint on pay there can be no guarantee of restraint on prices. It would be wholly unreasonable and impracticable in these circumstances to expect manufacturers, retailers and others concerned with prices to restrain their prices. Therefore, I must ask the Committee to reject Amendment No. 55.
So much for the question whether the matter of pay should be covered by the Bill. I should like to explain further the principle which we have had to follow in applying the standstill to pay. First, I think that anyone who gives his or her mind to this problem will not dispute that if there is to be a standstill it must mean that new pay increases are not negotiated or awarded after the initial announcement so as to take effect during the period of the standstill. That is what the White Paper says. It goes on to say that any increases negotiated during the standstill will have to be subject to the policy which applies after the standstill.
Secondly, we must consider increases which would have come into effect during the standstill on the basis of agreements or awards made before the standstill. These cases raise the difficult question of how far it is right to modify or defer existing agreements or awards. The Government took the view, and they still take the view, that in fairness to others such increases would have to be deferred.
511 The hon. Member for Doncaster took the same view in 1966, with one exception. He talked of sympathy for people covered by wages councils. However, he will recall that his Government introduced legislation which was more stringent about wages councils' proposals than are our proposals.
The number of workers who would have received increases during the standstill on the basis of agreements or awards made before 6th November would be substantial. It would certainly be over one million. There may be cases of local or plant agreements of the same sort but not included in that estimate of something in excess of one million. It would not be fair to other workers affected by the standstill to let these increases take effect during the standstill. Take, for example, a group of workers who would normally have expected to negotiate an increase from 1st January, 1973, because their last increase was from 1st January, 1972, but who now find that the standstill applies to them. I would have thought it would clearly be unfair to them to let through an increase operative from the same date simply because it happened to have been negotiated before 6th November.
§ 8.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Norman Atkinson (Tottenham) rose—
§ Mr. Barber
I should like to deploy this argument, but I will give way in a moment.
So we have been forced to conclude that these increases agreed or awarded before the standstill have to be deferred, though—and this is important—we have made it clear that they can be implemented in full at the end of the standstill.
In order to avoid deferment an increase has to satisfy two tests. First of all the agreement must have been reached or the arbitration hearing must have been held before the standstill was announced on 6th November. Secondly, the operative date for the increase must also have been before the standstill. These tests are consistent with the principle that increases should not start during the standstill.
Now I willingly give way.
§ Mr. Atkinson
The Chancellor is making a good case in his own way of 512 avoiding unfairnesses as the result of letting people through the standstill. Could he just for a moment now cast his mind back to the Downing Street talks when the Government were proposing to offer everybody a £2 increase right across the board—except people on low pay—and when the Government said they were prepared to make exceptions for people on low pay and, therefore, would allow one or two through, over and above the flat rate of £2? How does he justify the argument he and the Prime Minister were using in the Downing Street talks to allow one or two through over and above the £2 they were offering to people on very low pay, because they were on low pay? It was obviously unfair to those on higher pay, because it meant closing the differential. How does the right hon. Gentleman relate that to the position he is now advancing of letting no one through during the freeze?
§ Mr. Barber
No. The proposals in the Downing Street and Chequers talks have been published and set out at length, and the hon. Member will find that the proposal was a flat payment right across the board for everybody. It would have had the very considerable advantage, as he implied, of providing a bigger percentage increase for those on lower pay than for those on higher pay. This was a means of narrowing the differential. The proposal was for a straight increase of £2 which would have given £2.60 on earnings.
§ Mr. Atkinson
Is the Chancellor now saying that at no time did the Government offer anything to the low paid over and above £2?
§ Mr. Barber
I do not want to deal with certain specific cases. I have only a limited amount of time and there are many other Members wishing to speak. So far as our proposals are concerned, there was no dispute between the TUC, the CBI and ourselves, and they are on the record, and I ask the hon. Member to look at them again. I think he will find that he has, genuinely, made a mistake.
I was going on to say that we found one class of case where we were in difficulty over the operative date test. In the case of wages councils—not of wages 513 boards—the operative dates do not depend on the terms of an award or an agreement. Wages council proposals operate when a series of formalities have been complied with—the hearing of objections, the making of a ministerial order and so on. So we decided that in their case it was fair to treat them for the standstill as though they had an operative date 12 months after the date of their last increase, and if the resultant date—and this is important—fell on or before 6th November, then the wages council proposal could proceed, otherwise it was subject to deferment. This is, I think, an important advance on what was done in 1966 when, the hon. Gentleman will recall, all wages council proposals in the pipeline were deferred for six months.
So the principle is this—that an increase should not start during the standstill, and this applies to pay at all levels.
There are other amendments which are being discussed with the main Amendment, No. 55, and they are intended to exempt particular groups from the standstill altogether, and the hon. Gentleman referred to a number of them. I do not myself think that we can, in fairness to others, go down that road, any more than our predecessors did in 1966.
In particular I would say that I have looked again, with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, who is here, at the position of the agricultural workers, about which I have had a number of discussions with some of my hon. Friends behind me and, in particular, with the officers of the Conservative Party Agricultural Committee. It is not a matter of being adamant or of being rigid. It is simply a question of considering the fairness of letting them through but holding back others. This is the primary consideration which my right hon. Friends and I have had throughout.
The sympathy for the position of the agricultural worker is understandable, but there is sympathy also for National Health Service ancillary staff who had made a claim before the standstill and were expecting an increase operative from a date in December. But I am afraid that whenever a standstill of this kind takes effect it is unavoidable that some groups will be on the wrong side 514 of the line, and if this or that group is let through as a special case another group is likely to be brought near the line and to feel that it has suffered particularly in not being let through, and so the general sense of fairness is reduced.
I think I ought to explain to the Committee what would, I fear, be the implications of letting the agricultural workers through without deferment as a special case, because this is a point which has concerned some of my hon. Friends.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian) rose—
§ Mr. Barber
I would like to deal with this first.
There is a substantial group of wages council proposals affecting more than 500,000 workers who would have a strong claim to special treatment if the agricultural workers went through. They, too, could have expected increases during the standstill, and I should stress what is an important point, that some of them have waited longer since their last award than the agricultural workers. They are by definition low-paid workers, and it is right also that I should make the point that many of these people are lower paid than the agricultural workers. They include, for instance, garment workers and many in the catering trades. In nearly every case the increases proposed for them are less than those awarded to agricultural workers.
If we were to let through both agricultural workers and the remaining wages council groups there would remain only one group with prior agreements to which deferment applied, and these are agreements already negotiated providing for increases during the standstill, often under "staged" agreements. On what ground would it be right to discriminate against them, if the others were exempted from the standstill? They include workers in electrical contracting, plumbing, provincial journalism, and so on.
I think the conclusion from this analysis is clear. We cannot discriminate in the way proposed. If the standstill is to be accepted as fair it must operate on the rule that pay increases ought not to start during the standstill.
There is a further point about agricultural workers which I want to make clear because it has undoubtedly been mis- 515 understood in some quarters. Whereas the outcome of agreements negotiated during the standstill will be subject to whatever policy is decided upon for the period after the end of the standstill, the agricultural workers and the other workers covered by paragraph 14 of the White Paper or corresponding wages council proposals will as from the end of the standstill get their increases paid in full.
§ Mr. Dalyell
The Scottish National Farmers' Union says that the Agricultural Wages Board delayed reaching a settlement in October to avoid upsetting the Government's call for restraint. Does the Treasury accept this as a statement of the situation?
§ Mr. Barber
What cuts out the agricultural workers is the fact that the operative date is not before 6th November.
§ Mr. Dalyell
The Scottish National Farmers' Union claims that the Agricultural Wages Board delayed reaching a settlement in October to avoid upsetting the Government's call for restraint. is it the Treasury's view that the board did do this to oblige the Government or that it did not? If it did, some of us think that a rather different interpretation should be given to the application of the freeze.
§ Mr. Barber
All I can say is that I have never heard that statement made before, nor have I heard anything to suggest that there is any truth in what the hon. Gentleman says.
§ Mr. Harold Walker
The Chancellor of the Exchequer has said that he can see no justification for treating agricultural workers as a special case, and that if he did so there would be repercussions. Speaking from memory, at the end of 1968–69, after the NBPI had said that the Agricultural Wages Board settlement was grossly in breach of the then policy, the Labour Government allowed an increase of, I think, 7 per cent., twice as much as the ceiling, as a special case, and there were no repercussions. If the Labour Government could do that, why cannot the Conservative Government do it now?
§ Mr. Barber
The answer is simple. The arrangements we have made for the 516 wages councils—and wages council and wages board recommendations have generally been treated as being in the same category—are more generous than the ones which the Labour Government insisted on the House of Commons passing in 1966.
In further answer to the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell), I have never heard the allegation he makes, but what counts is not the sort of allegations he is deploying—no doubt in good faith, he must have heard them from somewhere—but that we have made it clear that proposals made by wages councils and wages boards before 6th November may be implemented if the operative date of the previous increase was at least 12 months before the standstill.
§ Mr. Dalyell
It is not a question of hearing it from somewhere; it is a question of it being in print now in the hands of the Chancellor's Parliamentary Private Secretary.
§ Mr. Idris Owen (Stockport, North)
Will my right hon. Friend say what would be the position, at the end of the freeze, of a group of workers who are negotiating a retrospective pay award to take effect from 1st January, 1972? Would there be an element of retrospection in that award?
§ Mr. Barber
If they have not received an award since 1971 they are covered by the policy which we have decided and made known that arbitration awards may be implemented during the standstill if the relevant negotiations were completed on or before 6th November, which was the date of my right hon. Friend's announcement, and the operative date was not later than that date. That is the only policy which is consistent with 517 the general approach which we have adopted throughout.
On the point raised by the hon. Member for West Lothian, I have a note saying, quite simply, "The Chancellor is right".
§ Several Hon. Members rose—
§ Mr. Barber
I do not propose to give way again. There can, of course, be differences of opinion on whether there should have been a standstill at all or whether, after the tripartite talks came to an end we should merely have let pay and prices rip. The country is in no doubt that we took the right course in the national interest but, having decided upon that course, it is of the utmost importance that we should do our best to make the operation of the standstill period as fair as is humanly possible between one group of workers and another. It is on this basis that I ask the Committee to reject the Amendment.
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Raphael Tuck
I first want to express my astonishment and disquiet that the Government should have imposed a guillotine on this part of the Bill. To put a gag on discussion of this most important part of the Bill curtails the powers of the House of Commons. We might be in France in the year 1789. Everywhere we look we see the guillotine. I have read in history books about the Long Parliament, the Addled Parliament and the Rump Parliament; this Parliament might well be called the Gagged Parliament.
I dissociate myself from certain condemnations which have been made of the Prime Minister for changing his attitude since the Conservative manifesto which was published before the General Election. The Prime Minister says that he has changed his mind because he did not realise that the situation which has arisen could arise and he has now seen the light. But the light he has seen is the light from the Conservative benches; he has not seen where the shoe pinches.
The Prime Minister paints the trade unions in the most lurid colours—grasping, greedy, avaricious. They are not grasping, greedy and avaricious, and it is about time the Conservative benches realised that. The trade unions want security, not the security of golden hand- 518 shakes, about which we heard so much last week; all they want is for their members to have the security of a job and the additional security of knowing that the money they receive for that job will pay for the bare necessities of life for themselves and their families. This Bill does not give them that security, and that is why the trade unions cannot assent to that part of the Bill which freezes wages.
Before the trade unions assent, they want to discuss a range of matters with the Government. For example, they want to discuss the direct relationship between the foreign policy of the EEC and the escalating food prices in Britain which within the next year or so will be critical. They want to discuss the rent increases under the Housing Finance Act, which is called by many Tories the Fair Rents Act but which I would call the Unfair Rents Act. The increased rents of both council and private tenants must influence claims for increased wages in the next 12 months. But these subjects are barred to the trade unions by the Government. A curtain is drawn over them, they cannot be discussed and that is the end of the matter. All the tenants have received is a measly 50p needs allowance, which amounts for some of them to 8p because 17 per cent. of 50p is 8p.
Furthermore, we now know that the Government's alleged aim of limiting price rises to 5 per cent. was in relation to increased prices arising from increases in domestic costs only and would not extend to increased costs flowing from the imposition of food import levies. I quote from paragraph 7 of the White Paper:Certain prices—especially those for fresh food such as fruit, vegetables, meat and fish and for imported raw materials—are subject to fluctuations arising from external or seasonal causes. Where such prices rise, enterprises handling these products without applying any manufacturing process to them will not he required to obtain specific consent for raising their prices by the same amount.Food prices can thus go on soaring upwards, but we must still have a wage freeze for the workers. This is what workers are objecting to.
I should also like to mention the subject of education, referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster (Mr. Harold Walker), which also apparently will he subject to the freeze. The increase 519 in London allowance promised by the Secretary of State for Education and Science in May was to come into effect on 1st November, but there has been no increase and this item will now be caught by the provisions of the Bill.
What has been the result of all this activity? I quote from the statement issued by the TUC General Council last weekWork people could therefore have been in a position where the ceiling on wage increases was fixed at an unreasonably low level while food prices in particular were rising without any specific undertaking or guarantee on the part of the Government to control them.'This is the real reason why the talks broke down. Food prices and rents will rise without any restriction, while the trade unions are expected to accept a restriction on all increases in wages. Is it possible that the Prime Minister and his colleagues cannot understand where the shoe pinches? Can they not understand the frightful anxiety of the workers—not anxiety that they will be unable to afford a yacht but anxiety that their earrnings will buy progressively less and less of the necessities of life to the point at which they are unable to afford them at all? The truth is that the Government do not appreciate these things because the shoe does not pinch members of the Government.
My great teacher in political science, Harold Laski, once said that men who live differently think differently. The Prime Minister and his colleagues live differently and therefore they think differently; they cannot project themselves on to the plane of the workers. If they cannot understand the fears and worries—legitimate fears and worries—of those who have only their labour to sell, and if they cannot ensure that those fears are allayed by proper remedies, then it is about time that we had a leader and a Government which can understand them.
§ Mrs. Kellett-Bowman
I listened with the greatest interest and attention to the speech of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I thought that he had genuinely sought to find means of allowing the well-deserved claim of the farm workers somehow to be let through the net and had failed. He felt that if he were to let that one through, others would automatically 520 follow. But I believe that the agricultural workers' case is so strong that he should go on trying.
My right hon. Friend spoke of fairness. I believe that the conditions in which farm workers labour are such that the country in general would not consider it unfair if they received their rise. I support the amendment which deals with this subject because though, unlike many hon. Members opposite, I do not know a great deal about conditions in industry, I do know a great deal about the conditions of agricultural workers. I believe that I am one of the few Members of this House who have worked in agriculture. I have mucked out pigs and cows and I could do it again.
It is true that conditions have changed, but there are some things that even a first-class Conservative Government cannot change, and that is the weather. It is still a grim, and even heartbreaking, business for those who farm in the hills, as do many of my constituents in Lancashire and many others up to the borders of Westmorland and Yorkshire, to have to search for a stray animal lost in the snow. And it is not much fun working in a sugar beet field after it has rained for weeks. Although large farms can afford to have efficient mechanical aids, for the great majority of small and medium-size farms a cowman's hours are very long and cows have never lost the habit of calving at the most inconvenient times.
Against this sort of background the relationship between farmer and worker is probably closer than that affecting any other body of workers. They work alongside each other in fair weather and foul. For many years farmers have deeply regretted that they have been unable to give their workers the money they knew they were entitled to—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] For the simple reason that they themselves were taking home a smaller wage than they were paying to their workers, despite the capital involvements and the long hours worked. Farming is now looking up and I believe that the farm workers are entitled to share in the prosperity.
A squeeze for only 90 days will mean over five or six weeks a matter of £20 lost to the farm worker. That is only a fleabite to the industrial worker, but to 521 a farm worker and his family it is a very substantial sum. I believe that the whole country knows the hard work these people undertake, and they certainly did not try to jump the gun by negotiating before the freeze came in. Their award has come through in the normal course of negotiations, and I do not believe that it will be regard as opening the door to other exceptions. For this reason, I ask my right hon. Friend to go on looking for some way to allow this very deserving body of men to have their well-deserved reward.
§ [Mr. RICHARD CRAWSHAW in the Chair]
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Mr. E. Fernyhough (Jarrow)
The hon. Member for Lancaster (Mrs. Kellett-Bowman) has made it very clear that she is well acquainted with farming life. I have no doubt that there are some poor farmers whose standard of living is very little higher than that of their farm workers. However, there are quite a numbers of farmers sitting on the benches opposite who find it profitable to be Members of Parliament—
§ Mr. Fernyhough
I shall not come off it. This is what the argument is about. It is about whether those at the bottom of the scale are to be kept down while those who own land can sell it at spectacular prices quite uncontrolled and with no freeze. It is about whether that situation is to continue while the hon. Lady's farm workers remain without their £3-odd rise.
The hon. Member for Lancaster will have her chance tonight. Amendments Nos. 82 and 106 will give her an opportunity to show whether she is prepared to back up her speech in the Division lobby. Feeling as deeply as she does, if she believes as I do that the farm workers should not have their increase withheld, I hope that she will have the courage to come into the Division lobby with the Opposition to show her farm workers that she is prepared to back her voice in this Chamber with her vote.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer said that this three-month imposition was necessary because of wage and salary inflation. Presumably he was trying to make us believe that there had been no higher 522 distribution of profits, no increase in the price of land and no increase in the price of property in the past year or two. He must know that it is not the agricultural workers, the distributive workers and those getting less than £20 a week who have been engaged in property speculation and in buying up every kind of cottage on which they set their eyes—
§ Mr. Fernyhough
As my hon. Friend says—and getting public money to improve those properties and selling them at greatly enhanced prices. It is not the farm workers, the engineers, the shipyard workers or even the boilermakers—the cream of our industrial society—who have been doing this. Everyone knows who are the racketeers—
§ Mr. Fernyhough
What is more, everyone knows the rackets that they are up to, and this Bill will not have the slightest effect upon a single one of them. They will be able to go on their merry way exploiting the country and getting richer every day not because of their own efforts but because of their cleverness and in some cases their trickery.
Listening to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, one can quite understand why the talks with the TUC broke down. The right hon. Gentleman is totally inflexible. He pretended that the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) was of no account. But, of course, it was very significant. The Agricultural Wages Board had made an award which was substantially higher than that which the Prime Minister was prepared to offer across the board to the TUC. The TUC said that his suggested £2 was not enough and that it should be £3.40 or £3.50.
If the Government had conceded the agricultural workers' increase, they would have had to concede it across the board to the TUC. The TUC said that that was the kind of figure that was required if there were to be an agreement. However, if that had happened, the Chancellor of the Exchequer could still have made the same claim, since the £3.50 which the agricultural workers were awarded would have been a bigger percentage, being based on about £15 or £16, than it would have been to the engineer on about £30.
523 It was because the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the rest of the Government were determined to put the blame for their mishandling of this nation's affairs on the shoulders of ordinary workers that they felt obliged to introduce this measure. Millions of people in June, 1970, believed them and millions of people in November, 1972, have been deceived by them.
If the Chancellor of the Exchequer wants to understand how vicious the Bill will be when it becomes an Act, I will give him an illustration. In June, 1971, almost 18 months ago, the trade union with which I am associated made an agreement on behalf of 100,000 people engaged in the distributive trades that on 31st December of this year they would have a £1 increase, irrespective of whether there had been an increase between June, 1971, and the present time. That £1 a week will not be allowed to go through because it does not apply until 31st December.
§ Mr. Arthur Lewis
Is my right hon. Friend aware that I have received a letter from the Prime Minister which states that because Lord Wigg's increase in salary of £2,800 a year, which is a 39 per cent. increase—[Laughter.]—there is no need for the Chancellor of the Exchequer to laugh—and a 57½cent. increase in two and a half years, was negotiated and agreed before the date of the freeze, he should get it? If that is good enough for Lord Wigg, it should be good enough for the workers to whom my right hon. Friend the Member for Jarrow (Mr. Fernyhough) is referring. Will my right hon. Friend now ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer to treat everyone alike?
§ Mr. Fernyhough
As usual, I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I was hoping that the Chancellor of the Exchequer would deal with the ordinary workers, on whose behalf I am making my plea, in the way in which he dealt with Lord Wigg and as he will continue to deal with the property speculators and the landowners. But I want the Chancellor of the Exchequer to answer me. Does the right hon. Gentleman think that it is reasonable and fair that an agreement which was signed in June, 1971 that employees should have on 31st December, 524 1972, an extra £1, which would bring them £17 a week and £16.35 for grade 5 and grade 6 workers—I repeat, does he think it fair—should be withheld? The employers would like to pay it. There will probably be a joint deputation to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to see whether they cannot do so. They know, as every man, woman and child must know, that at today's prices no person can keep a home on £16 or £17 a week. It is not a living wage. If any hon. Member opposite thinks that it is, let him try to experiment. Let him try to pay for his family's fuel, food, rent, insurance and the rest on a wage of £15 or £16 or £17 a week. Let him feel what it means to have an increase on that sort of wage frozen while land and property speculators are not touched at all.
Hon. Members opposite may not like this sort of thing, but it is what deeply affects the people. The ordinary man in the workshop today is much more knowledgeable than was his father. He can read and he can see. He sees the great gulf growing wider. This Bill will make it wider still. Even if he insists on most of this Bill going through, I ask the Chancellor whether it is not reasonable in the circumstances to accept Amendment No. 82 or No. 106, which would at least guarantee that anyone not getting more than £20 a week would not be affected by the freeze.
§ Several Hon. Members rose—
§ Mr. Atkinson
On a point of order, Mr. Crawshaw. Could you clarify our procedure? Many of us are not knowledgeable about the manuscript amendment or about the procedure between now and 11 o'clock. Could you tell us when the vote will be taken on the manuscript amendment dealing with the agricultural wages award, particularly if it is to be taken on the basis of the manuscript amendment submitted? Which amendments will be taken following the vote if it takes place at 11 o'clock, or between the vote and 11 o'clock, if the vote on the present amendment is taken before that time?
The Temporary Chairman
This debate will be continued and I understand that 525 the manuscript amendment can be moved at the end of the debate on this amendment. If we are discussing this amendment at 11 o'clock, the manuscript amendment will fall. If we come to the close of this debate before then, the manuscript amendment can be moved and a vote taken on it.
§ Mr. Joel Barnett
Further to the point of order, Mr. Crawshaw. The manuscript amendment which has been submitted is different from the normal manuscript amendment in that hon. Members are not able to know what it is as yet. But it is in exactly the same words as Amendment No. 12 on the Paper, except that it refers to line 2 on page 21. The wording is precisely the same, as is the intention.
§ Mr. Biffen
Further to the point of order. Could you elucidate this a little further, Mr. Crawshaw? When this debate comes to a conclusion, will the question that the Chair puts refer to Amendment No. 55, and will not that be the first vote we take? Is it the case that only if there is subsequent time available for a second vote will we have the chance to vote on the question of agricultural workers' pay?
§ Mr. Joel Barnett
Further to that point of order, Mr. Crawshaw. As it seems to be the wish of the Committee to have a vote on the question of the agricultural workers' pay, if it were to appear that the fall of the guillotine would prevent that, I would be prepared to allow Amendment No. 55 to be negatived rather than divided upon in order that we could have a vote on the agricultural workers' pay.
The Temporary Chairman
I hope that statement clarifies the position. It is outside the control of the Chair whether this debate continues until 11 o'clock. I understand that the manuscript amendment should be available in the Vote Office. As the hon. Member for Heywood and Royton (Mr. Joel Barnett) says, if the Opposition do not pursue Amendment No. 55 until 11 o'clock, it will be possible to move the other amendment and have a vote on it.
§ Mr. Atkinson
Further to that point of order, Mr. Crawshaw. On this side of the Committee at any rate there is a desire to have a fixed understanding about bringing Amendment No. 55 to a conclusion. Would you give some assurance 526 that you will not allow a filibuster to prevent that taking place?
The Temporary Chairman
It is in the hands of the Committee. I would not allow filibustering. I do not think there has been any. But the matter is not within the hands of the Chair. If hon. Members wish to continue speaking to this series of amendments, there is nothing the Chair can do to bring forward the following amendment.
§ Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)
On a point of order. May we have the matter clarified, Mr. Crawshaw? A number of minority interests are involved, as is shown by the amendments additional to that dealing with agricultural workers. Do you propose to spread your choice of hon. Members who catch your eye so as to reflect all those amendments?
§ 8.45 p.m.
The Temporary Chairman
I hope that my eye will spread sufficiently far to catch the majority of them.
§ Mr. Brewis
In view of the points of order, I hope that my remarks will be commendably brief.
Before the points of order were raised we heard a plea for retail workers, a plea with which one must sympathise. At the same time, it showed how difficult it is to find a cut-off when one has a freeze.
I support the Bill because a solution to the excessive inflationary pressures has to be found, but I am extremely concerned about the lower-paid workers. I understand that during the Downing Street talks my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister suggested restricting increases of incomes to £2, expressly with the design of improving the position of those whose pay was low, although their role in society was often important. I am thinking particularly of the nurses in an earlier freeze, but on this occasion it is the farm workers who seem to be in the forefront.
Last week the Economist contained a list of the categories of workers whose pay rises have escaped the freeze. Some were as much as 16 per cent. The power station workers managed to manipulate their settlement so that it got in the day before. But there is always a delay between the decision of the wages board and the date when rises for farm workers 527 become effective, and so the rise for the farm workers was caught.
Most of us think that this is an unfortunate technicality. Mr. Fraser Evans, the Convener of the Labour and Machinery Committee of the National Farmers Union of Scotland, and incidentally the man who has sent two Press releases within the last week making it clear that the members of his union want to give the rise which has been negotiated, says that this cannot be regarded as a breach of the Government's general policy.
It has been suggested that farm workers in general receive far more than the minimum. That is true of the vast majority, but not by any means of all of them. I have with me a pay slip for a farm worker in Eastern England. His gross wage is £18 a week and his net earnings are £15.77. His wife says that he is classed as a craftsman, a provender miller. He acts unsupervised and does all the milling on a farm. He has a nasty, dirty and unhealthy job.
Surely there is some way in which the farm workers' claim can be allowed through the net. In other legislation, such as the Industrial Relations Act, it is stipulated that the provisions shall not apply where the number of workers at an establishment falls below a given figure. My Amendment No. 103 would exclude farms and other establishments employing fewer than 10 workers. While there are some big farms employing more, the amendment would allow through the net the great majority of farm workers. There are many other suggested ways of allowing the freeze not to apply, for instance, to those earning less than £20 a week. I ask my right hon. Friend to look into this matter carefully to see whether some way can be found to let this rise through.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Does the hon. Gentleman think it conceivable that his constituent, Fraser Evans, who has been in contact with a number of us, did not let at least the Scottish Office know, if not the Ministry of Agriculture and the Treasury, of his view of the action of the wages board in October? Could the hon. Gentleman confirm that in fact the NFU made proper representations to the Government, so that the Chancellor of the Exchequer should have been briefed on the view that 528 the wages board delayed reaching a settlement in October in order to avoid upsetting the Government's call for restraint? Is not that the fact of the situation?
§ Mr. Brewis
I can make no comment on this though I have no reason to doubt that the hon. Gentleman is correct.
§ Mr. Buchan
I take to heart the points which have been made about the way we are to conduct today's business. I am glad that we are to be as brief as possible and to try to stick basically to this one topic, despite the Chancellor's provocative speech.
I shall concentrate mainly on the agricultural workers' wages, but two points must be made about the general proposal. First, it is not fair, and secondly, it will not work. It is not fair because it is not a standstill all round. It is a freeze on wages, not on prices. The freeze on wages applies only to ordinary workers' wages. It does not apply to the individually contracted fees of lawyers, business consultations and advisers of one kind or another; it does apply to dividends, which are postponed, and this has relevance to the farm workers; and it does not apply to the fantastic accretion of share valuings which will continue in this period. Therefore, it is manifestly unfair.
§ Mr. Buchan
My hon. Friend the Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Arthur Lewis) has a habit of making everybody's speeches. We all welcome it, but sometimes we could do without his help when we are trying to be brief.
Secondly, this proposal will not work because inflation will continue. The biggest elements in inflation have not been the permanent factor of wages but causes directly deriving from Government action. The three sharpest areas of inflation are rents, which are directly caused by Government action; food prices, which are directly caused by world prices and Government action because of the new type of policy; and the fantastic increase in the cost of land and housing, directly caused by Government policies as every property owner will confirm.
This measure will not work because it deals with only one element in the whole problem. One great virtue of the British 529 people is their highly developed sense of fairness. They will understand that this proposal is not fair, and therefore the Government cannot expect their co-operation.
I want to deal not with everything that the Chancellor said, provocative as he was, but with his ignorance of the situation regarding the wages council's decision on agricultural workers' wages. I do not specifically blame the Chancellor for not knowing about the situation. By an odd coincidence, however, two yards away from the right hon. Gentleman is a Minister who was informed about it. What in the name of God goes on in this Government? Representations are apparently made to one section of the Government and, several days later, they still have not filtered through to the Government's spokesmen in a major debate.
What happened? As far back as May the farmers were accepting the farm workers' demand, except that they wanted to reduce it by 50p. There was general agreement that the £19 proposal should be accepted, but the amount claimed by the farm workers was rejected because it was said that both the farmers and the Government were opposed to settlements at less than annual intervals. The £19 proposal was accepted six months ago, but the agreement was not concluded because the farmers accepted the Government's line that there should not be more than one wage agreement within a 12-month period. It was promised, however, that the increase would be effective from December, and it is that decision which the Government's policy has set aside.
The farmers have underlined the difficulty in which they have been placed. because they would like to pay the extra money but the Government have stopped them from doing so. They have been put in an embarrassing situation. On 2nd October the board delayed a decision on the farm workers' claim because of uncertainty over the effect of the Government's call for restraint. In other words, at that stage the board was still trying to operate in line with Government policy as it appeared to be after the Prime Minister's statement about a 5 per cent. norm for price rises and a £2 wage limit. The board was doing the decent thin, and it is the Government's behaviour since then that is so criminal.
530 On 24th October the employers and independent members of the board voted in favour of the £19 proposal and against the workers' proposal for 50p more. They did so because of the Government's call for restraint and because of their prior commitment to an increase. I ask the Committee to realise that six months ago the farmers were committed to the payment of £19, but they turned down the demand for an extra 50p because they accepted the Government's policy of restraint. The amount to be paid was lowered because of Government action, and then the payment of that lowered amount was stopped by further Government action. There is therefore a double fault and crime for which the Government have to answer, and that is why we argue that the farm workers represent a special case.
It is shocking that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has not been briefed in this case by the Scottish Office on what was likely to happen today. If that is the way in which the Government have pitched into the negotiations with the trade unions over the last week or two, if that is how they have behaved, one can only say that the trade unions must have responded with the patience of lambs against that kind of provocation. I hope that between now and 11 o'clock the Chancellor of the Exchequer will see sense and deal properly with this issue.
Apart from the history on the Scottish side, a similar but not so dramatically exposed history relates to English farm workers. They were awarded £19.50, but no farmer will be allowed to pay all the money. We know what will happen. We know how hon. Gentlemen on the Government side and their pals will dodge these provisions. We know that there will be breakthroughs and that loopholes of one kind and another will be found to enable them to get what they want.
The Government have provided several bases for increases, including increased productivity, but they expressly exclude farm workers from getting productivity increases because they are bound by the decision of the wages council. Their award was held back for six months, the amount for which they asked was reduced, payment of what they expected has been stopped and they have no chance of getting an increase because of improved productivity. That is how they 531 are to he treated despite the fact that their productivity is rising, and it has risen faster in their industry than in almost any other.
Before the war we imported about two-thirds of our temperate foodstuffs. We now import about 40 per cent. of our requirements. This improvement has been achieved with a two-thirds reduction in the number of farm workers. How much more productivity do the Government want? The Government's exclusion of farm workers from the payment of extra pay for increased productivity is only one example of the unfairness of their proposals.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer boasted that increases in the pipeline on the wages council side would be allowed through. I do not know how many are covered by that—I would guess, very few—but I would like an answer on this so that we can compare it with the right hon. Gentleman's references to the numbers who might get through if the farm workers are allowed through.
Finally, if the excuse and argument for this policy has been not only to fight back against inflation—that is a non-starter if ever there was one—but also to help low-paid workers, the people will accept exceptions. This is what the Government have been saying it is all about. So far from the people objecting to exceptions, this is the nearest approach that the Government can get to some support, by creating exceptions. This is the illogicality of the Government's position.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster (Mr. Harold Walker), some of us have gone through this before. We know what will happen at the end of the day. The high hopes that the Government have of doing this U-turn will go right into the quagmire. The people will not accept it. I do not believe that it will solve the problems that the Government face.
There is one way in which they could come out of this with a vestige of respectability. In a case like that of the agricultural and low-paid workers, for God's sake let them make the kind of exception which will at least cover their shame.
§ Mr. Farr
I am afraid that I shall be a little critical of what my right hon. 532 Friend the Chancellor said. I want to concentrate on Amendment No. 12. First, I appreciate the Chancellor's being here and listening to the arguments. I also thank him for the detailed and careful way in which he explained why he did not feel able to make any move towards meeting the amendment. However, because I still persist in the view that some move in that direction should be made, I have one or two suggestions to make to him.
First, this amendment is widely supported on both sides. Hon. Members on this side have expressed to me the opinion that it is desperately unfair to freeze farm workers' wages and to prevent an award of £3.30 which has already been proposed by the board and which is due to come into effect from 22nd January and is contrary to what we believe is or should be the policy of our Government.
The Conservative Government's policy, some of us believe, should be designed to help the lower-paid workers. We had earlier exchanges on this, to which I do not wish to refer at length, but it is desperately unfair that the people who seem to have been caught by this freeze are the wages councils workers.
What rubs salt into the wound for us is that, only a week or two before the freeze was announced, there were several large awards in industry. Car workers in the Midlands got a very large increase indeed, about £10 a week, and the power workers who held the nation to ransom last winter and caused much chaos and suffering managed to scrape through with another handsome award.
We believe that the agricultural workers are different for several reasons. One reason why I am particularly putting forward this case is that not only are they one of the lowest-paid groups in the country: they have an unparalleled record of passivity in wages negotiations and have never used industrial action to gain their ends. It is impossible for some of us to accept a freeze on agricultural workers when, due to some haphazard factor in the negotiations relating to the date of implementation, other groups of workers are given their increases and escape the freeze.
I have one or two suggestions for the Chancellor. He has been frank and we understand his predicament. Perhaps he will indicate during the course of the 533 debate, and I hope before the Division, what sort of impression my suggestions make upon him. Can he give an undertaking that farm workers will receive their award in full at the end of the freeze, whenever that may be, backdated to 22nd January, 1973, which is the original date of implementation of the award?
Alternatively, will he give an undertaking that should the 90-day freeze period be extended farm workers will not be affected, and that after 90 days they will get their award in full? Those are two suggestions which I hope the Chancellor will consider. I know that he has already considered something along those lines and he may feel, therefore, that it is impossible for one reason or another —for fear, perhaps, of letting the floodgates open—to accept my ideas.
A condition exists locally for me which I feel may spread throughout the country. In some parts near the big industrial areas, in the East and West Midlands and in the North, many industrial workers are earning handsome wages. I referred a moment ago to the car workers and their £10 increase. Unless some exception is made for farm workers, the Minister of Agriculture will have to approach the Chancellor before the end of the 90-day freeze and ask for something to be done. Workers on the land cannot be obtained in those areas which fringe the industrial cities. They are going into industry and into those jobs which offer incomparable returns to those to be earned on the land. Who can blame them for taking other jobs? In some counties, I believe, it may prove necessary for the Chancellor to give way over the award, if only on a county-by-county basis.
Perhaps the Chancellor will persist in his view that to make an exception of the agricultural workers would be wrong because it would open the floodgates to all wages councils workers who are governed by such pay awards. I have had the opportunity in the last day or two of studying the list of such workers. It is in the Library and it was circulated in the OFFICIAL REPORT not so long ago. From my study I am convinced that agricultural workers are an exception because no other group covered by a wages council earns so little, £16.20, for so long—the standard week is 42 hours—and also had its last increase so long 534 ago—10 months. It is unique in that respect.
In the knowledge that the Chancellor will give this matter his careful consideration, since he is anxious to help the industry if he can, and I know he wants to do something—it is a matter of helping not just agricultural workers but of helping the whole industry—I put this final proposal, which would not establish a precedent but would meet the case at least for a few months.
A week or two ago the Government announced that all old-age pensioners would have a Christmas bonus of £10 for a single person or £20 for a married couple. Will my right hon. Friend authorise the employers of farm workers to make a payment at Christmas time to their workers of 15 times £3.30, or £50, if they wish? That would have the effect of giving agricultural workers their £3.30 award for 15 weeks. It would establish no new principle, because the Government have already said that old-age pensioners will have their lump sum at Christmas time. [Laughter.] Hon. Members on the Opposition side may laugh, but something will have to be done if people are to stay on the land.
§ Mr. Keith Stainton (Sudbury and Woodbridge)
Does my hon. Friend agree that in all probability, as one interprets it, the Bill contains no provision which would preclude a genuine Christmas gift from an employer to an employee? In the light of expressions of sympathy for the position of farm workers which I have heard from some very substantial farmers in Suffolk—I am sure that the same is true elsewhere—is there not a danger that, perhaps by Christmas boxes, there would be evasion on a large scale, and the Government would finish up with the worst of all possible worlds?
§ Mr. Farr
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He, like me, is desperately anxious to keep within the law. This is why I hope that, before we on this side have to decide how to vote, our Front Bench will tell us that they are willing to do something to help the agricultural workers and will explain the form which that help will take.
§ Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe)
Even the right hon. Gentleman must agree that it is a 535 melancholy state of affairs that a Bill of this importance should be so brutally subject to the guillotine. We are now in a period not of government by consent but of government by guillotine. I honour those hon. Members on the Government benches for the pressure which they have sought to exert on their right hon. Friends. They are men and women of substance and I trust that they can be relied on to stand by their word in the Lobby tonight.
§ Mr. Morris
The Government's freeze is especially harsh and unjust to the agricultural workers, as both sides of the Committee recognise. The President of the National Union of Agricultural and Allied Workers, our former parliamentary colleague Bert Hazell, speaking in Ludlow last Friday said:For farm workers, it is a situation which is ironic and unfair in the extreme, considering that they are one of the lowest paid groups in the country. They certainly cannot be blamed for inflation—rather the reverse with their excellent productivity record".It is no good blaming the agricultural worker for inflation. He is the victim of inflation and not its author. He is not responsible for the Housing Finance Act. Nor is he responsible for levies on food imports. He is merely asking for a living wage. Mr. Hazel, in his speech last Friday, went on to say that the award to agricultural workers went a good deal less than half-way to meeting their reasonable claim of £25 a week and that it made no move towards reducing the 42-hour standard farm week. He said:The blockage on hours we regard as particularly scandalous seeing that every other major industry in the country is on a 40-hour week or less.9.15 p.m.
It will be known to all hon. Members that representatives of the National Union of Agricultural and Allied Workers were recently received by the Minister of Agriculture. I understand that the right hon. Gentleman expressed his regret that farm workers were caught by the freeze. According to my information, he went on to assure the union's representatives that after the period of standstill the award would be implemented in full. The Patronage Secretary, 536 speaking in Sawston last Friday night, again said that at the end of the standstill the award would be honoured in full. Will the two right hon. Gentlemen say whether, by their talk of the award being honoured and implemented "in full", they mean that farm workers will be allowed their back pay?
A dividend frozen is a dividend delayed, but a wage increase frozen is wages lost. It is not good enough to use the phrase "in full" unless both right lion. Gentlemen are prepared to spell out just what they mean. The new Minister of Agriculture has spoken very differently from his predecessor, now Lord President of the Council. The new Minister regretted that farm workers were caught by the freeze. Not so his predecessor. Speaking on 2nd November, the former Minister is reported in the Daily Express as follows:Mr. James Prior, Minister of Agriculture, who is attending the Common Market anti inflation talks"—he was attending them in place of the Chancellor—said last night: 'If the rise is £3.30 then it is against Government policy. It would be a great disappointment. … There is every reason for a bit of gloom around.'I ask the House to note the serious difference between the attitude expressed by the present Minister to the National Union of Agricultural and Allied Workers and that of his predecessor as reported in the Daily Express. We should, of course, all pay our customary tribute to the admirable Alexander Kenworthy, the agricultural correspondent of the Daily Express, who always seems to be in the right place at the right time.
I have a very practical question to ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer. If he is not able to answer it, I hope that the Minister of Agriculture will do so. The increase negotiated for farm workers was to be partly offset by an increase in payment for board and lodging for the farm worker who lives in. Is that frozen as well as the wage increase? I will give way to the Minister if he can clarify what I regard as a very important point.
As was said by the hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr), whom I applaud for the view he expressed in favour of farm workers, the Government are looking for agricultural expansion. They are profoundly unlikely to achieve it if they 537 deny farm workers a living wage. There will be an exodus from the land. Other industries will attract highly-skilled farm workers who have sustained the agricultural industry in good times as well as in bad.
There have been references in the debate to other groups of workpeople. I quote from a statement in the London Evening News on Monday, 13th November, which said:Pat Copsey will drive home tonight in her brand new Mini. So will Anita Franklin. And Valerie Powell will collect her new car next week and say goodbye to those long struggles in packed commuter trains. These three girls have made history in the secretarial world—thanks to their boss, paper manufacturer Charles Cartwright. Mr. Cartwright found he couldn't get top secretaries to come and work in South-East London—it's so far from the West End, there aren't any decent places for lunch'. So he offered a car with the three top secretarial jobs in the firm.That represents a very substantial increase in the standard of living of the private secretaries concerned. Surely there is something wrong with our values if we are prepared to allow free cars to private secretaries and to deny highly skilled farm workers a much overdue and, in my view, all too inadequate increase in pay. If we compare what land speculators receive with the earnings of those who farm the land, we get some idea of the contrast in Government attitudes to these two groups of people.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer quoted certain other hard cases as an argument for not letting the farm workers through the net. I believe that he should let all the hard cases through the net. The Government said that they wanted to help lower-paid workers. Here is an opportunity to help a very worthy group of lower-paid workers in an essential industry. It is now a matter of consistency in government, not to mention honour and sincerity.
I referred earlier to the Daily Express. That is not normally a newspaper which supports this side of the Committee. Yet the Daily Express has told the Government "Pay up". Right hon. and hon. Members on both sides have said that the Government should pay up in the interests of consistency and sincerity. My message to the Chancellor of the Exchequer is that he should "Pay up or resign".
§ Mr. Richard Body (Holland with Boston)
I am afraid that the hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Alfred Morris) is logically incapacitated from deploying the one strong argument in favour of the farm workers. The Government—any Government—can order an employer not to pay more than a certain wage, or an employee not to receive more than a certain extra wage, if it can be established that the damage which would be done to the national interest, to the community, would be such that the payment of that extra wage should be made a criminal offence. With every respect to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, he has failed to establish that principle. This seems to be only the second occasion on which I have found myself in disagreement with my right hon. Friend.
The purpose of the Bill, so far as I can ascertain—and I have listened to nearly all the debates, although I have been less active in the lobbies—is to effect some check on the rise in prices and to impose some check on wages in so far as they affect prices—and particularly they must be food prices because we all know well enough the part which food prices play in the family budget. So far it has not been argued by anyone that the farm workers are responsible for the steep rise in the price of food, some 21 per cent. in the last two years, or that their wages are or would be excessive. Yet that is the inference to be drawn from the Government's attitude to this Amendment. Rather than justify that inference, it is said that we must not allow through the floodgates any special cases.
The farm worker does not want to be a special case. He does not wish to be put upon any pedestal of privilege and treated differently from anyone else. This Bill, on the other hand, makes the farm worker a special case, by entangling him in a net where he does not belong and where not even the most flinthearted promoter of this Bill would intend him to be.
I listened to my right hon. Friend with great care when he said that if the Amendment were accepted it would open up possibilities for more than 1 million other cases to go through—[HON. MEMBERS: "Half a million"]—Perhaps it 539 was half a million, but it sounded like a million to me. It was not clear, either from what I heard who are these other cases. There have been employers making a promise to pay an increase. If they fulfil that promise they will, under the Bill, be acting unlawfully. Then it must follow that there are also other special cases created by this Bill. I believe there should be no such special cases and in that respect I agree with the hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe. A promise by an employer should be fulfilled. The Government should not interfere and make an employer a criminal for doing in good faith what he has said lie will do. That is what the Bill tries to do, and that is why it should be amended.
Only a minority of farm workers receive the minimum wage, although the wages of all farm workers tend to be related to the minimum wage. Most workers receive more than the minimum wage either because of overtime earnings or because they have reached agreements with their employers that they shall be paid a certain amount above the minimum wage. For example, there are many farm workers who are paid £5 above the minimum wage and whenever the minimum wage is increased their wages are raised by the same amount.
In the last week or two thousands of farmers—I am not exaggerating—have said to their employees that because the minimum rate is to go up by £3.30 their wages will be put up by that amount regardless of whether they are earning more than the minimum wage.
The spokesman on labour matters of the National Farmers' Union has said that the NFU supports the settlement and that employers have agreed to pay it. Thousands of farmers have already promised that they will pay the additional money in January. Strictly speaking, that settlement may not be an agreement between two partners—I use the word "partners" deliberately because farm workers and farmers are more often partners than employees and employers.—because the National Union of Agricultural and Allied Workers has decided to refer the decisions about the agreement to its branches. Besides, we know that 540 the settlement has no statutory force until 11th December when it comes before the Agricultural Wages Board. With no lack of respect for the board, in view of the circumstances that exist, in particular the acceptance by the NFU of what has been decided, the board will wield no weapon more wounding than a rubber stamp.
So it is that thousands of employers have reached an agreement with those whom they employ. They have made a promise and now Clause 2(2) ordains that they must not keep their word. Moreover, Clause 5(1) says that if they ignore that ordinance they will be committing a crime for which they will be fined up to £400.
For 20 years I earned most of my livelihood at the criminal Bar. One cannot do that for so long without forming some philosophy about crime. Any crime must be regarded by society as a serious matter, and the commission of any crime as implying a degree of moral guilt. To parliamentarians of an earlier generation that remark would have been utterly trite but it is trite no longer. Once crimes are created by Parliament which do not import that moral guilt, society must accept that the committing of a crime will no longer be regarded as a serious matter.
Farmers will get round this provision. They will pay a productivity bonus, they will give some extra gift at Christmas, or they will make some award in cash or in kind which will avoid detection by the snoopers and monitors who will be employed. Strictly speaking it will not be honest and less respect will be given to the law. For these reasons I very much regret not only the Bill, but in particular this part of the Bill. I hope the Government will have a change of mind and will reflect on the consequences.
§ Mr. Pardoe
I make clear at the outset of my remarks that I do not support Amendment No. 55. We believe in a prices and incomes policy and yesterday I made clear that we believe that any such policy must be statutory. I do not want to go into the argument whether it is wages or prices that cause inflation, because the major part of the debate has been concerned with the amendment relating to farm workers—
§ Mr. Arthur Lewis
On a point of order, Mr. Crawshaw. We all know that 541 the Chair is always completely and absolutely impartial, but may I draw your attention to the fact that throughout these debates only one Liberal has been present? That same Liberal, who is now speaking, was called on the last amendment and he has now got in again. Is it fair that when there are hon. Members on both sides of the Committee who wish to take part in this debate, the Chair should seek to give so many opportunities to the Liberals when there are so few of them present in the Chamber—
§ Mr. Pardoe
Thank you, Mr. Crawshaw. I can only rest in the confidence that my party would rather put this matter in my hands, as one-seventh of its membership in this House, than would the Labour Party put the matter in the hands of the hon. Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Arthur Lewis).
§ Mr. Pardoe
Our Amendment No. 82 deals with the nub of the problem. It seeks to exempt those whose incomes are below £20 a week from the operations of the freeze. I believe the amendment is reasonable, practicable and just. I have always believed that a statutory prices and incomes policy, a policy which I have long advocated, should be an act of social justice as well as a counter-inflation measure. It ought to seek to redistribute incomes and wealth, to lessen differentials and to help those who are earning their poverty.
The people about whom we are talking are some of the lower-paid farm workers—not all farm workers are that low paid, but most of them are—and the other low-paid workers below the £20 a week mark. Those are the people who in a real sense are earning their poverty. Among those low-paid workers the farm workers loom large. They are now the lowest paid large group of workers. Indeed they were in that situation under the Labour Government both at the beginning of their six years of office and at the end of that period. And they have stayed at the bottom of the heap for far too long. Moreover, they have already negotiated an increase to take effect after 6th November. The Scot- 542 tish agreement, I understand, was to take effect rather earlier than the English agreement, namely on 4th December.
I suppose there is no reason why the promise to the farm workers should be honoured any more than that made to anyone else, if one talks simply in terms of a contract or promise—except that they are low paid. It is because of that that I want to embrace the arguments on farm workers within the context of Amendment No. 82, although I support the amendments dealing with the farm workers. The Government have to answer the detailed arguments which have been made on farm workers' pay by many of their supporters, and I think that they may find it easier to accept the arguments on low pay than those on one group of low-paid workers.
Is it reasonable to use this prices and incomes freeze to help the low paid? Surely the Government believe that whatever help is available should be concentrated on those who need it most. The Government believe in selectivity in the social services. Surely this proposal is selective in combating poverty and ensures that what resources are available go to those who most need them.
The argument for exempting the lower paid from the operation of the freeze must not be confused with any other arguments that one might make at another time for a minimum earnings guarantee. I support the idea of a minimum earnings guarantee since it must be an essential part of a long-term policy beyond the 90-day freeze. But that is not the argument that I make now. Amendment No. 82 would not guarantee minimum earnings of £20. It would simply allow whatever increases were given anyway to be given to those whose earnings were below £20 for the 13 weeks before 6th November.
Would it be highly inflationary? I support a prices and incomes policy as an attack on inflation. Therefore I have to answer the question, and undoubtedly it is one which will figure in the mind of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I do not believe that it would be highly inflationary.
I wish to quote a number of figures which emerged from the 1971 survey. Then there were about 1.2 million men with incomes below £20 a week out of 543 a total labour force of 12.4 million. There were 3.5 million women earning less than £20 gross out of a total female labour force in full-time employment of £7.9 million. Those were the 1971 figures. They are certainly lower now. We are talking of a total of, say, 4 million men and women with incomes below £20 a week, not all of whom would have negotiated an increase during the 90-day period. Therefore we are not talking even of a pay increase to 4 million—probably not even to half of them.
Who are the low paid? We have heard a lot about the farm workers and I support their case completely, as I have indicated already—
§ Mr. Skinner
If the hon. Gentleman really supports the agricultural workers, and he may well vote on their behalf tonight if he gets a chance, will he explain to me why he did not support the Opposition amendments upon which we voted last night, some of which would have resulted in a delay which would have meant that the agricultural workers got their increase?
§ Mr. Pardoe
I did not support those amendments because they were not in favour of the agricultural workers. They might incidentally have allowed the agricultural workers to slip through the net. However, it is grossly hypocritical to indulge in that argument now. The suggested 30-day delay was an attempt by the Opposition, as the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) made clear, to postpone the freeze for 30 days in order to get a voluntary agreement. As I made clear last night, I believe that a voluntary agreement is a load of hooey, since it would he totally useless. That is why I could not go along with those amendments.
Many of the people who earn less than £20 a week are in industries which are covered by wages boards and councils. Many of them are employed by the central Government. According to the April, 1971, earnings survey produced by the Department of Employment, 51 per cent. of adult men in agriculture had incomes of less than £20 a week, and 60 per cent. of men in catering had earnings of less than £20. Catering is far worse paid than agriculture. There are many other industries where the pay is even worse than the pay for catering.
544 [Miss HARVIE ANDERSON in the Chair]
Is the amendment practicable? I believe that it is. I draw the attention of the Committee to Clause 2(2), which refers to an individual employer, and says:An employer shall not pay remuneration … which exceeds the rate of remuneration paid by him … before 6th November 1972.Just as the Government have told individual employers not to pay an increase during the period of the freeze. they can easily tell them to pay an increase they would otherwise have paid to any workers whose gross weekly wages were less than £20 during the 13-week period.
Is the amendment just? I think that it would be seen to be just by the public. It would make the incomes freeze much more acceptable to the public. It would he in keeping with the principle enshrined in the Prime Minister's suggestion of an all-round £2 increase. Whatever the Chancellor of the Exchequer may think about the amendment to remove all incomes from the freeze—I probably agree with him about that—and whatever difficulties he may see in making an exception of farm workers, no such reservation can apply to those earning less than £20 a week. I do not expect total acceptance, but I think we might get some indication from the Government that they accept the principle enshrined in the amendment and that they will consider how it may be applied.
§ Mr. Winterton
I hope the Committee will not mind if I devote most of my contribution to Amendment No. 102, which refers to the silk industry, which is still one of the traditional industries of the constituency which I have the honour to represent.
I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the Committee feel deep concern about the position of all the low-paid during the statutory freeze. However, I will devote most of my comments to the silk industry. At a meeting of the Joint Industrial Council of the silk industry, which was held in Manchester on Tuesday, 24th October, a wages and conditions of employment agreement was reached. The agreement laid down that wage rates should be increased by £2 for a normal 40-hour working week for all 545 adult males and females over 18 years of age. That increase fell within the criteria of the package that was put to the tripartite talks at Downing Street by the Prime Minister. The increase to which I have referred also includes a proportionate increase for young people within the industry.
In considering the importance of a £2 increase to those working in the silk industry, it is necessary to appreciate the basic rates of pay which appertain now in the industry. The basic rate for an adult male is a mere £16.05 for a 40-hour week; for a female worker it is a mere £13.64. About 14,000 people, mainly in North Staffordshire, South Cheshire and parts of Lancashire, are affected by this wage award. By any standard of today, they are amongst the lowest paid in the country. Yet they are skilled operatives.
They are not an irresponsible or militant group of people. Nor is their union. They appreciate the problems facing the industry and the need for responsibility and restraint if it is to survive what I can only say is unfair competition which has been overlooked by successive Governments—competition from imports from low-cost countries. Only recently, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs has been to Red China and the Far East. It is the imports coming from these countries which have undermined the quality silk industry in the United Kingdom.
The relationship between the Amalgamated Society of Textile Workers and Kindred Trades and the employers in the industry is excellent by any standard. There is great loyalty in the industry and a close understanding between the workers and the employers, and I think that this exists in very few other trades or industries today. Perhaps one of the few other industries in which it still exists is the agricultural industry.
If the agreement reached by the Joint Industrial Council for the silk industry is allowed to proceed by the Government, it would operate from the week beginning 1st January next. I believe that it would be more than a year since this group of workers had an adjustment in their wages. The rapid rise in prices which we have experienced in that period has seriously eroded the purchasing power of the wage packet of this low-income group. But also in this period many of those repre- 546 sented by more powerful and perhaps more militant unions have achieved substantial wage increases.
I plead with my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer to look at this matter as a special case. I make this plea on behalf of a very low-paid section of workers. But I would add that if the Bill is successful the future of these low-paid workers will not only be safeguarded but their position in life will he genuinely improved.
I want to mention one of the cases brought to my attention—that of the telecommunications traffic grades of the Post Office. The last award to this group was made in January, 1971. Negotiations have been taking place throughout this year for a revised pay scale to operate from 1st January, 1972. The matter was referred to arbitration in October and the hearing is to take place on 30th November. These people are therefore in the invidious position of being refused any award that might result from the arbitration—and back pay with it, of course—including any fringe benefits which might be included, whilst many of their colleagues in the Post Office have received reasonable pay settlements in that period. I hope that my right hon. Friend will give serious consideration to this case as well.
Another case is that of the agricultural workers. I believe that the agricultural industry will play a far more important part as from 1st January next than it has done in recent years. I believe therefore that it is vital that we should not in any way drive any farmworker from the land, where his services are most valuable, into any other industry. The agricultural industry has a tremendous potential and we must encourage people to come into it rather than move out of it.
An excellent case has been made for the agricultural workers and I hope that the Government will find some way in which to safeguard them. At a farmers' dinner in his constituency, my right hon. Friend the Patronage Secretary gave a firm assurance that the farm worker's pay award would be made in full at the end of the standstill. I should like clarification. Did he mean the 90-day or the 150-day period? I am sure that if my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture were to say that it would be met in full at the end of the 90-day period, 547 that would go a long way to pacifying not only the farm workers, but the farmers themselves, who want this pay award to be met.
§ Mr. Ronald Brown (Shoreditch and Finsbury)
I wish to address myself to Amendments Nos. 35 and 108, which I have suggested, and to speak about the furniture industry.
The Government have acted disgracefully towards this industry. In order to obtain the best possible product at the cheapest possible price, it has been necessary to know production costs for the ensuing 12 months and traditionally, therefore, there have been joint consultations between employers and trade unions to determine wage increases for the ensuing year. The discussions have always taken place in August, September and October, and the results have been determined at the end of October, to be implemented on the first pay day in January. This has given employers an opportunity to forecast and to be able to plan to ensure that the industry could run reasonably well without strikes or other manifestations of industrial unrest.
The results of this year's discussions were determined on 24th October. The significant feature of this year's agreement is that well over half is designed to implement the Equal Pay Act, in other words, to bring the pay of women in the industry as soon as possible up to that of the men. It was to be the penultimate step before the women in the industry received equal pay next year.
The Government pay lip service to equal pay and the furniture industry is desperately trying to implement that policy in this phased way. But the Government have now decided that as these pay awards would be paid in the first week of January, they may not now be made.
I listened carefully to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but I am still not sure whether he means that from the end of the 90 days an employer will be able to back-date pay to the first pay day in January. Is it intended that after the freeze pay increases from the first pay day in January to the end of the freeze will become payable?
In 1968, the present Home Secretary spoke of the ill will that would be 548 engendered by the Prices and Incomes Act of that year. I am bound to tell the Government that their Bill will prejudice industrial relations in the furniture industry, where relations have been of the best for many years.
Clearly those who have urged for a long time that there was great merit in not having this planned concept which I have described, but that it would be easier to have a crash situation where employers could be forced over a barrel to concede an immediate increase that the industry could not stand, will now be fortified by the Government's action. They will believe that had that system been operative we would have had secret negotiations on 24th October and declared the increase as having been paid on 25th October. We have evidence of one negotiation going through in that way.
Many people in the furniture industry will begin to review this idea of having good industrial relations and may suggest that it does not pay so well. I hope that we shall hear from the Minister that this industry will be treated as a special case. The furniture industry is extremely competitive and is doing its best to ensure good industrial relations.
It is interesting to trace what happens when furniture leaves the factory. The workers, for whom I am parliamentary adviser, work extremely hard. They have introduced many new changes in technology and given up many of their old skills in an effort to improve the production of first-class goods. We have heard about the retailer. Let us consider a piece of furniture worth about £67, including purchase tax at 131½ cent., the furniture workers have toiled sweat and blood in its manufacture. By the time it is on sale in the shop it is priced at £120 to the consumer. We have heard the extraordinary argument that it costs more to retail items than to manufacturer them. Only the retail trade is permitted to put a mark up on purchase tax. It is an extraordinary provision. What is the Minister going to do about that? Is he going to stop the workers getting their small share of the increased productivity in the industry, but at the same time allow the retailers to continue marking up at this outrageous level?
I understand that the Chancellor has delivered a new edict. He has said that 549 if on 24th October, 1972, any company declared a dividend or an interim dividend to be payable on 1st January, that is exempted from the 90-day freeze. How does that come about? Why is it that the furniture industry, which has an excellent record of industrial relations and good quality goods, is not to be allowed to go through with this agreement which was signed on 24th October, but any company which declares an interim dividend on that same day is allowed to pay it? I cannot understand the equity of that matter, so I hope that it will be explained.
§ Mr. Hugh Jenkins (Putney)
My hon. Friend will have noticed that just before 6th November a number of companies hurried to declare dividends to be payable next year. Some of the increases were very great indeed. Some dividends of about 116 per cent. were declared. There may be some companies in the furniture industry which have declared dividends much greater than normal for the purpose of not only escaping the freeze but wiping it out completely as far as they are concerned.
§ Mr. Brown
My hon. Friend may be right. It is a disgraceful situation.
It was nauseating listening to the Chancellor trying to explain why he believed that what the Government are doing is fair and equitable and suggesting that in every way he had a right so to argue. The hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. John Page) tried to intervene in the debate a few moments ago. Over the last four or five years he and I have been together on a lecturing circuit. He has usually followed me. One of the great differences between us when addressing our audience was that he rejected the whole concept of prices and incomes control. He thought that such a policy was wrong, and that the most disastrous thing of all was the element of compulsion. I hope that the hon. Gentleman 550 will join me in the Lobby tonight because, in view of what he has been saying over the last few years, I do not see how he can go into the other Lobby to support his Government.
The Chancellor tried to explain the difference between his attitude in 1966 and today. I have obtained the 1966 Prices and Incomes Act from the Library. We have changed our terminology since those days. Rat-catchers are now called rodent operators, and the Prices and Incomes Act is to be called the Counter-Inflation (Temporary Provisions) Act, but it is significant that Clause 5(9) of the Bill is virtually the same as Section 22(1) of the 1966 Act. An examination of the Bill shows it to be almost a replica of that Act.
I do not see how any right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite can go into the Government Lobby tonight. They rejected the 1966 measure. There were conversations in Downing Street and other places culminating in an agreement on 16th December, 1964, which led to the Declaration of Intent. The Labour Government reached an agreement with the trade unions. They did not get disagreement, which is what this lot have managed to do. The 1966 Act was an attempt to be fair. The lower paid were protected by its provisions, yet hon. Gentlemen opposite rejected the whole concept, said that it was wrong and voted against it.
Hon. Gentlemen opposite then compounded the felony in 1967, 1968 and 1969 by proving to people that it was wrong to have any element of compulsion in dealing with prices, incomes, and so on. I hope that they will stand by their words. I thought that they were wrong in those years, but if they intend to stand by what they said let us see them in the Opposition Lobby tonight in order to show that they are upright and honest men.
§ Mr. Charles Morrison (Devizes)
The hon. Member for Shoreditch and Fins-bury (Mr. Ronald Brown) is accusing the Government of inconsistency. He should recall that consistency is the prerogative of little minds, so at least we are not being accused of having little minds.
The object of nearly every speech today, and of virtually every amendment that has been referred to, has been to make the effects of the freeze rather more fair in respect of some exceptional case, but if the freeze is made more fair in respect of one exceptional case it will tend to make it more unfair in respect of another, and the fact has to be faced that if we are to have a freeze at all it will be unfair to a number of people. But inflation creates even greater unfairness and, therefore, what we are doing is considering the lesser of two evils.
The Bill does no more than give legislative form to the White Paper "A Programme for Controlling Inflation: The First Stage" and I should like to hope that when the Government come to the second stage they will have regard to a number of points that have been made tonight.
I should like for a few moments to deal with the problem of agricultural wages. It is very important to realise why agricultural wages are so relatively low at this time. The reason is simple: during six years of Labour Government the production of the industry stagnated. As a result, farmers' ability to pay a wage nearer the average industrial wage was severely curtailed. What a change there has been during the last two years: production increased last year by more than it did in the whole period under the Labour Government. Therefore, I emphasise what a sacrifice is being asked of agricultural workers.
§ Mr. Loughlin
Can the hon. Gentleman give the source of the figures on production and productivity to which he has just referred?
§ Mr. Morrison
The figures were given by the previous Minister. In the last two years production has increased by 11 per cent. It increased by only just 552 over 5 per cent. during the whole period of Labour Government.
§ Mr. Stainton
It would seem to follow, therefore, that the farmers are now entering a period of higher—in fact high—profitability?
§ Mr. Morrison
I was just coming to that.
In the light of the increases in production, for the first time for many a long year not only do the farm workers rightfully believe that they deserve a wage increase from 21st January; farmers also believe not only that the workers deserve it but that they themselves can pay it.
This is a unique situation. Over the weekend some farmers spoke to me and others telephoned asking whether I could do anything to help persuade the Government to allow the agricultural wage increase as an exception. On every previous occasion when a wage award has been made, the reaction of farmers has tended to be "How can we afford it?" accompanied by a certain amount of gloom. But not on this occasion.
Furthermore, many farmers would have given the increase in time for Christmas. In some cases that has been their practice for a number of years. This is a very important point, which was put to me at the weekend by my county branch of the National Union of Agricultural Workers. With the farming year being seasonal, overtime tends almost to dry up during the winter and earnings tend to fall. With the annual wage increase coming into the winter, particularly just before Christmas, this makes up to some extent for the fall in earnings.
But it is wrong to consider farm workers in isolation. In the year July, 1971, to June, 1972, average weekly earnings of all men hired on farms were £22.08. That compares with average industrial earnings of over £31. My hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) rightly referred to the possibility of men being drawn away from the land. If agriculture is to retain the necessary manpower, the gap between these figures must be reduced. The gap is greater among adult workers than among young ones, so there is an incentive for the younger farm worker to be drawn into industry.
553 Therefore, with increased productivity in the industry and increased production, existing wage levels by comparison with other industries and the ability of the industry to pay a higher wage, as well as the dangers of a drift from the land, there must be a very strong reason for an increase in wages.
My constituency contains a large number of industrial workers who earn considerably higher wages than the farm workers and who feel strongly for the farm workers and support their case. I am not greatly optimistic of a favourable response because I do not believe that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor with his ingenuity can find a way round the problems created by allowing the increase.
My right hon. Friend has made one major concession by allowing the increase in full at the end of the freeze period. I hope, therefore, that even if he cannot announce it tonight he can devise means by which the agricultural workers will be allowed their increase.
§ Mr. David Stoddart
In the Swindon Evening Advertiser today there is a headline which says:Morrison supports the farm workers.Will the hon. Member take his support to the proper degree by voting with the Opposition tonight?
§ Mr. Morrison
Whatever the headline in the evening newspaper may say, I support the farm workers, but the farm worker unfortunately is being subjected to the freeze. [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer the question."] I hope, therefore, that my right hon. Friend—[Interruption.]—will find some way around the impasse in which the farm workers find themselves.
§ Mr. John Golding (Newcastle-under-Lyme)
There are now another million workers who believe themselves to be cheated by the Government. The feeling is held not only by the workers but by their families. It is appalling that the Government have given way on this occasion to the powerful and the strong and have trampled the weak. I would be interested to know how many settlements were concluded on the Monday morning before the Prime Minister made his statement. My guess is that they were numerous. The settlements were made between workers and employers who had 554 no sophisticated wage-negotiating machinery or in cases where the workers were not weak. The speeches by Conservative Members confirm that this is a case where the weak have been hardest hit.
We have heard about the silk workers of North Staffordshire who are on a basic rate of £16 and are denied an extra £2. We have listened with concern to the plight of the agricultural worker who is denied an increase from £16.20 to £19.50. But there is anger in the hospitals in North Staffordshire over the freezing of the ancillary workers' claim and over the delay that will enter into the negotiations. Those workers are earning £17.45 for a 40-hour week and they draw less than £20 a week even when they work weekends. They are being exploited, just as the farm workers have been exploited, because of their sense of decency for the people they serve.
The farm workers are badly paid not because the farmers are poor. The farmers in my constituency do not look particularly poor. The farm workers are badly paid because they do not strike because they consider the welfare of the animals and appeals for loyalty always carry weight with them. In the same way, the ancillary workers in hospitals are badly paid because they feel concern for the sick. They have not struck, and they cannot strike in a way which would be effective. That is why they are badly paid.
The moral of some of the speeches tonight, from both sides, is that the closer workers are to their employers the more badly are they paid. The lesson seems to be that such workers should put some distance between themselves and their employers if they want to take home a decent wage packet.
§ Mr. John D. Grant (Islington, East)
There is a special difficulty for the group of workers closest of all to their employer, namely, civil servants, who are always catching up and never setting the pace. Will my hon. Friend accept that unless in phase 2 the Government take account of their special circumstances, there will be a danger of repudiation of the whole Civil Service negotiating machinery as at present constituted?
§ Mr. Golding
As my hon. Friend knows, I was an officer of the Post Office Engineering Union when an arbitration 555 award was frozen and denied to Post Office engineers in 1963.
Like much of the rest of this Government's legislation, the Bill is harmful to industrial relations. Legislation of this kind says to workers, in effect, "If you have orderly methods for fixing pay, if you have sophisticated bargaining procedures, you may well get less than you would if you just battled it out with your employer".
The absurdity of the Government's position is that if, before 6th November, workers had said, "We want another £7 and we want it from yesterday", they would not be hit by the Bill, but if they said, "We shall be satisfied with £1 and we shall not force you to pay for another month or two", they would be hit. It is an utter absurdity that agreements should be caught in that way.
On this occasion, as on several others during the past two years, the Government are hitting again at arbitration. By the way they are handling the arbitration case of the Society of Post Office Workers, they are bringing orderly bargaining procedures, ending with arbitration, into disrepute. The claim of the Society of Post Office Workers should have been met in full, according to an arbitration award, from 1st January, 1972. By their present proposals, the Government are denying those staff members at least one year's increase in pay. It is intolerable.
Those of us who are expected to preach to workers that the best way to settle pay is peaceful means and by arbitration will not be able to use much cogent argument if the people to whom we speak are able to say, "But if that happens we shall always be likely to be caught by a Tory Government wage freeze". I hope, therefore, that the vote in the Lobby tonight will be decisive against the Government.
§ The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Joseph Godber)
We have been discussing a series of amendments the first of which is a wrecking amendment. I will try to answer the many points that have been raised on those other amendments. I am replying to the debate because the main theme of it has largely been the agricultural workers' pay, 556 to which I shall refer. It is important, in the light of what has been said, to remind hon. Members that what we are doing in the Bill, and implementing through the White Paper produced with it, is carrying out a holding operation and nothing more. We are not at this stage seeking to implement the Government's proposals arising out of the tripartite talks. This is only the first stage. The proposals for bringing about greater fairness and parity come with the second stage.
This initial stage is an emergency operation to meet the present situation. For that reason there are bound to be anomalies, however much we may regret them. They cannot be avoided with an operation of this kind. That is the basic point to keep in mind. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer replied to the majority of points raised by the hon. Member for Doncaster (Mr. Harold Walker) but there was one specific point to which he did not reply. This was the question of the London teachers raised by the hon. Member for Doncaster and the hon. Member for Watford (Mr. Raphael Tuck). It is wrong to say that they have been denied their London allowance. The Management Panel of the Burnham Committee offered a revised London allowance which was an increase from £118 to £133, relating to an accepted formula. The offer was made on 20th October and was payable from 1st November in accordance with the earlier arbitration award. This was accepted by the teachers in colleges of further education and it can be implemented for them. But the other teachers' panels rejected the offer and no offer of £200 was ever made.
§ Mr. Denis Howell (Birmingham, Small Heath) rose—
§ Mr. Godber
I have very little time. I would like to give way but I curtailed my time to allow further speeches and I should prefer to continue. I apologise, but it is a question of time and I have to deal with a lot of matters.
My hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) referred specifically to the silk industry. While I agree that it can be argued that the minimum agreed rates in this industry are low, it is a fact that a lot of the workers are on piece work and are able to earn 557 substantially higher earnings. These are basic rates with which we are dealing. Nevertheless I accept this as another illustration of the fact that there are many in the lower echelons who are affected. I appreciate the point and am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising it.
The hon. Member for Shoreditch and Finsbury (Mr. Ronald Brown) referred to the furniture workers and their problems. This is a difficult matter although he would agree that these are not low-paid workers in the sense that agricultural workers are low paid. This is a somewhat different category. However, I observe the hon. Member's concern for his constituents and fully understand his feelings. The same answers apply to this as were given by the Chancellor when he dealt with the broader issues of the White Paper and the Bill. I cannot hold out any hope to the hon. Member until the standstill is ended.
[Sir ROBERT GRANT-FERRIS in the Chair]
When the matter of the Scottish farm-workers was raised reference was made to what the farmers' union leader had to say in a Press release. No doubt that was what the gentleman concerned said. But I have to base myself in relation to the Scottish workers on the official Press handout of 25th October, after the last meeting of the board. The date 25th October is significant in relation to the tripartite talks.
The Press release stated:The Board decided on a motion by the Employers' Representatives, supported by the Independent Members, to give effect to the prior commitment of the Employers' Representatives announced at the meeting of the Board on 15 May 1972 by making a proposal in terms of that commitment, i.e. to increase the minimum rate for the adult male (general) worker from 4 December 1972 from £16.40 to £19 a week with no reduction in hoursThe handout went on to say:The Board also decided to meet again in the near future when the outcome of the tripartite discussions between the Government, the CBI and the TUC is known "—and I repeat those words—when the outcome of the tripartite discussions between the Government, the CBI and the TUC is known to consider what step should now be taken towards the implementation of equal pay".558 Holding matters up until after the tripartite talks was an entirely separate point. I have just read from the official handout which appeared while the tripartite talks were still going on. There is no getting away from that.
The previous award had been in February. It was less than the 12 months period. Even if the Wages Board had not delayed, it would have made no difference to the result; it would have been precisely the same as it has turned out to be.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Is it worthy of a Cabinet Minister to base this kind of highly semantic argument on a Press release of 25th October when our information is dated 13th November?
§ Mr. Godber
It is very relevant, because it proves that what the hon. Gentleman has said is not borne out by the facts. The Press release is dated before the tripartite discussions ended.
§ Mr. Denis Howell
On a point of order, Sir Robert. The right hon. Gentleman refused to give way to me a short time ago, but he gave way to my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell). I do not object to that, but he should not discriminate in this way.
§ The Chairman
I did not see the hon. Gentleman look at me, but he said that he wished to raise a point of order. I suspect that he knows very well that it was not a point of order.
§ Mr. Howell
On a point of order. I think that you did not see me looking at you, Sir Robert, because you were not looking at me.
§ Mr. Godber
The answer to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Denis Howell) is that I was replying to a specific point raised by the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell), whereas the hon. Member for Small Heath did not raise one with me.
The hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Alfred Morris) told us what happened at the meeting between the agricultural workers and myself. What he did not tell us was what happened thereafter. For that purpose I have to refer to The Times, which said next day:Mr. Hazell, President of the NUAAVY. and Mr. Bottini, General Secretary, later saw Mr 559 Harold Wilson and asked him to avoid delaying tactics on the Bill so that the standstill would be over as quickly as possible".The hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Pardoe) raised a specific point on Amendment No. 82. That amendment could not help the farm workers because it refers to remuneration below £20, whereas the official figures show that for the year ending 30th June, 1972, the average earnings in farming were £22.08. I have to point out to the hon. Member that the amendment would not help them.
In the debate on the farm workers, my hon. Friends from a number of country constituencies have put forward a very strong case for the farm workers. I have great sympathy with it, but I have no sympathy whatever with hon. Members on the Opposition side in what I believe to be a sort of hypocritical attitude which they have to the farm workers. From my own experience over the years in the industry I know that again and again the farm workers' increases have been used as stepping stones to larger increases for people in the industrial trade unions, and it was the industrial trade unions which were always keeping the agricultural workers at the bottom of the queue. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Yes. And if it was not the industrial workers, then it was the party opposite.
§ Mr. Godber
The figures for the six years the party opposite was in power show that the wages of the farm workers rose from £9.50 in 1963 to £13.15 in 1970, and this is the equivalent of an annual rise of 6 per cent. Those are the figures. During the last two years there has been a rise which is the equivalent of 23 per cent., 11½ per cent. a year, nearly double the rate of rise of farm workers in those earlier years. The current proposal is for a further increase of 20 per cent., which will be paid to the farm workers in full at the end of the freeze. When this has been awarded, in the last three years of Conservative Government the farm workers' wages will have risen by over 40 per cent. That will be the position in less than three years, compared with an annual 6 per cent. in the six years when the party opposite was in power.
§ Mr. Cledwyn Hughes (Anglesey) rose—
§ Mr. Godber
Those are the facts of the case. I cannot give way because of the time. Those are official figures, taken from the agriculture White Paper.
I come to the series of sincere points which my hon. Friends put. I say to them that I understand very clearly their feelings about this matter. I know the agricultural workers. I have worked side by side with them myself for years before I came to Parliament, and far more than some hon. Members opposite have done. I have every sympathy with the farm workers' claim, but the facts are, as my right hon. Friend the Chancellor said, that it is impossible to distinguish between these workers and certain other categories of very low-paid workers. This is the real problem which confronts us. I know that my hon. Friends will recognise that as being genuinely a problem. There are all the other groups of workers, many of whom are receiving less than the farm workers, and one cannot give to one group and not to the others. That is the fact which makes it impossible for us to concede as we would wish to do.
§ Mr. Peart rose—
§ The Chairman
Order. The right hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) knows the rules of the Committee.
§ Mr. Godber
I cannot give way. There is no time. I am infringing on the time of the hon. Member for Heywood and Royton (Mr. Joel Barnett), and I said I would sit down as soon as I had completed this point.
The fact is that one cannot draw a distinction between agricultural workers and those others to whom I have referred, but I absolutely reaffirm that they will get their award in full at the end of the freeze. "In full" does not mean retrospectively: it means payment of the award in full immediately the freeze is over. Therefore, it is up to hon. Members opposite to help get the Bill on the Statute Book, preparatory to the next stage, and then they cannot be accused 561 of holding up the award to the farm workers. If they delay or seek to delay it they will be working against the interests of those very workers they say they want to help.
I hope that my hon. Friends will support us on this issue because I believe that what we are doing is right and just. I dissent from the arguments put forward by the Opposition because I believe them to be bogus.
§ Mr. Joel Barnett
Hon. Members have heard many strange cases but the one which has been made tonight by the Minister is so strange that I am sure even he cannot believe it. His argument seemed to be that farm workers set the pattern for car workers. The only argument of substance put forward by the Minister or the Chancellor of the Exchequer for refusing the agricultural wages award is that the Government are being equally unfair to all low-paid workers. That is virtually the Government's whole case.
The case against a permanent statutory incomes policy has been well made by the Prime Minister and never disavowed, and I assume that all hon. Gentlemen on the Government side accept that policy. We are, therefore, dealing only with a temporary policy. The major argument put forward for a freeze—or a standstill as the Government prefer to call it—is that it ensures equality of sacrifice—a deferment of all increases for everyone across the board. That is a contradiction in terms. Freezing the wages of a man earning £100 a week is nothing like as serious as freezing the wages of a man earning less than £20 a week. That is one reason why a temporary freeze does more harm than good. People are made so angry by the freeze that at the end of it they are unlikely to co-operate in the voluntary policy which the Government profess to want.
A temporary policy does not mean a freeze of just 90 days. The Government dare not let it end there. They know that it is a slippery slope. There would we a case for Clause 2(2) if the temporary provisions were to be followed by permanent legislation, but a total freeze can never be fair at any time—even if the Government are trying to be fair—because the basic wage structure is unfair to start with. But when the Government 562 are not even trying to be fair and, indeed, are being blatantly unfair, enormous damage can be done to the wages structure by a freeze.
The comparison that should be made is not between gross wages but between net wages, take-home pay after tax. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has asked for equality of sacrifice, but in the last two and a half years he has done more than any other member of the Government to ensure that there is no equality of sacrifice. To give one example; a married man, with no children, with an earned income of £15,000 a year over the period 1970–71 to 1973–74 will be given relief in net take-home pay of nearly £30 a week—slightly below the average industrial wage. He will receive more than £300 next April, under the last Budget. Is the Chancellor prepared to reverse that policy?
What is important is what happens to the take-home pay afterwards. If a man gets an increase of £2 a week, then after deducting tax, graduated pension, school meals and mortgage payments or rent, he will be worse off—and the Chancellor knows it. It is no use saying that the higher paid, too, will have to suffer a reduction. They are starting from a higher base. What the Government are suggesting is not even remotely fair.
We were told yesterday in a Written Answer by the Chief Secretary to the Treasury that directors' allowances would be included in the freeze. The White Paper covered benefits. We do not see it anywhere in the Bill. I presume the Chief Secretary is referring to the infamous paragraph 1(1) of the schedule—a provision which, I believe, not one hon. Member could justify as having any part in any Bill passed by this House. We are giving power to this Government to define any word in this Bill precisely how they like by notice, without ever coming back to the House. We need not ask what the definition of remuneration is, for at any time they can define it as they like without further legislation.
If the Government are seeking to be fair, they should be prepared to accept Amendment No. 65, though even then there would be no equality of sacrifice. How on earth would a Minister be able to make an order against a company which sought to give increased benefit to 563 a director? After all, a company does not know what benefit the director will have. A company gives increased expenses to its directors, but the matter of benefit is one for direct negotiation between a director and the Inland Revenue. He pays just as much as he is able to persuade the Inspector of Taxes is not spent in expenses, and it would depend on how well he is advised—[Laughter.] Oh, yes, but if the Chancellor of the Exchequer can tell me how he proposes to operate a notice or order which will have any effect on a director's benefit, I will gladly give way to him. He knows he cannot do it. He knows that in practice he can do nothing whatever about expenses, benefits in kind or anything of that description.
We are told by the Chief Secretary that stock options will also be caught by the Bill's provisions. There should be no new stock options, but the Chancellor knows that those stock options which have been introduced since the Budget will not now be taxed at anything like the same rate as before. If he wants to provide equality of sacrifice, he should reverse that, too. He should also reverse many other measures in the Finance Bill.
The right hon. Gentleman said yesterday that on the matter of fair rents there was to be no reversal of Government policy. Is the right hon. Gentleman saying "That's right"? This can only mean that the Chancellor and the Prime Minister were negotiating in bad faith with the TUC. If they did not intend even to consider reversing their legislation on taxation and rents, then they should have made absolutely clear to the TUC at the outset that they did not intend to do so, and they need not have wasted the time of the TUC and CBI.
Where is the equality of sacrifice between the low-paid and everybody else? Where, for example, is the equality of sacrifice between the low-paid and those who are in receipt of dividends. We know that dividends cannot be frozen permanently. This is why we want to see introduced taxes like the wealth tax, which will deal with the situation more fairly. If the Chancellor means to be fair, let him accept Amendment No. 68 which would deal with surplus profits made during the freeze; or let him accept 564 Amendment No. 72, which would leave out all the low-paid. But we know that they do not intend to do anything of the sort. The best thing for the House to do would be to accept our Amendment No. 55, which would leave out subsection (2) altogether.
The Government have constantly argued that there cannot be a voluntary policy on wages and a compulsory one on prices.
There is not a great deal of time to debate that aspect, but I ask why we should not have that sort of policy. If the Government still believe that compulsion is unworkable—and the Prime Minister has never admitted that he was wrong when he said that—surely there is a much better chance of getting voluntary restraint on wages if key prices are freezed than in attempting to do it by an enormously unfair and unjust freeze of the kind that is put before us today.
The Government clearly will get the worst of every conceivable world. They will antagonise everyone so that, when the thaw eventually comes, inflation will reach immense proportions. If that happens, they will be impelled to impose permanent compulsion against growing discontent, with all the serious repercussions that that will have upon the rule of law. We heard from the hon. Member for Holland with Boston (Mr. Body) what would happen when thousands of criminally guilty farmers gave increases to their farm workers.
I was hoping to carry the whole Committee with me on the general case. If I cannot do that, I believe that I can carry hon. Members on all sides with me on the case for the agricultural workers, which is overwhelming. We are dealing with a wage settlement which gives agricultural workers £19.50 a week—still less than £20 a week.
Incidentally, Sir Robert, I am grateful to you for allowing us not only to debate this matter but to vote upon it, despite the guillotine, by suggesting that if the Opposition do not divide the Committee on Amendment No. 55, much as we would like to, you will allow a Division on the manuscript Amendment.
How can we leave a Bill unamended which will prevent agricultural workers having £19.50 a week while those on 565 much higher wages benefit from loopholes that they have found? This is not a situation that any of us should be prepared to accept. However, it is clear from the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food that the Government are not prepared to move. If ever there was a time to show some compassion, surely it is now.
It is illogical, of course. My own textile workers and many others to whom my right hon. and hon. Friends have referred are equally well deserving. The Chief Secretary said yesterday that there is rough justice in this freeze. He is right. Any freeze is bound to have rough justice in it. But we have an opportunity
§ tonight to make that rough justice just a little smoother. We can do it by making a very small concession. I hope, therefore, that the Committee will approve the Amendment.
§ Amendment negatived.
Amendment proposed: In page 2, line 2, after "work" insert
except agricultural work under a contract made in acordance with a national agreement completed before 7th November 1972."—[Mr Joel Barnett.]
§ Question put, That the Amendment be made:—
§ The Committee divided: Ayes 273, Noes 289.569
|Division No. 11.]||AYES||[10.34 p.m.|
|Abse, Leo||Davis, Terry (Bromsgrove)||Horam, John|
|Albu, Austen||Deakins, Eric||Howell, Denis (Small Heath)|
|Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.)||de Freitas, Rt. Hn. Sir Geoffrey||Huckfield, Leslie|
|Archer, Peter (Rowley Regis)||Delargy, Hugh||Hughes, Rt. Hn. Cledwyn (Anglesey)|
|Ashley, Jack||Dell, Rt. Hn. Edmund||Hughes, Mark (Durham)|
|Ashton, Joe||Dempsey, James||Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen, N.)|
|Atkinson, Norman||Doig, Peter||Hughes, Roy (Newport)|
|Bagier, Gordon A. T.||Dormand, J. D.||Hunter, Adam|
|Barnes, Michael||Douglas, Dick (Stirlingshire, E.)||Irvine, Rt. Hn. Sir Arthur (Edge Hill)|
|Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)||Douglas-Mann, Bruce||Janner, Greville|
|Barnett, Joel (Heywood and Royton)||Duffy, A. E. P.|
|Baxter, William||Dunn, James A.||Jay, Rt. Hn. Douglas|
|Beaney, Alan||Dunnett, Jack||Jeger, Mrs. Lena|
|Benn, Rt. Hn. Anthony Wedgwood||Eadie, Alex||Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)|
|Bennett, James (Glasgow,Bridgeton)||Edelman, Maurice||Jenkins, Rt. Hn. Roy (Stechford)|
|Bidwell, Sydney||Edwards, Robert (Bilston)||John, Brynmor|
|Bishop, E. S.||Edwards, William (Merioneth)||Johnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.)|
|Blenkinsop Arthur||Ellis, Tom||Johnson, James (K'ston-on-Hull, W.)|
|Boardman H. (Leigh)||English, Michael||Johnson, Walter (Derby, S.)|
|Booth, Albert||Evans, Fred||Johnston, Russell (Inverness)|
|Bottomley, Rt. Hn Arthur||Ewing, Harry||Jones, Barry (Flint, E.)|
|Boyden, James (Bishop Auckland)||Faulds, Andrew||Jones, Dan (Burnley)|
|Bradley, Tom||Fernyhough, Rt. Hn. E.||Jones,Rt.Hn.Sir Elwyn(W.Ham,S.)|
|Brown, Robert C.(N'c'tle-u-Tyne,W.)||Fisher,Mrs.Doris(B'hom,Ladywood)||Jones, Gwynoro (Carmarthen)|
|Brown, Hugh D. (G'gow, Provan)||Fitch, Alan (Wigan)||Judd, Frank|
|Brown, Ronald (Shoreditch & F'bury)||Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston)||Kaufman, Gerald|
|Buchan, Norman||Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)||Kelley, Richard|
|Buchanan, Richard (G'gow, Sp'burn)||Foley, Maurice||Kerr, Russell|
|Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Weed Green)||Foot, Michael||Kinnock, Neil|
|Callaghan, Rt. Hn. James||Ford, Ben||Lambie, David|
|Campbell, I. (Dunbartonshire, W.)||Forrester, John||Lamborn, Harry|
|Cant, R. B.||Fraser, John (Norwood)||Lamond, James|
|Carmichael, Neil||Freeson, Reginald||Latham, Arthur|
|Carter, Ray (Birmingh'm, Northfield)||Lawson, George|
|Carter-Jones, Lewis (Eccles)||Galpern, Sir Myer||Leadbitter, Ted|
|Castle, Rt. Hn. Barbara||Garrett, W. E.||Lee, Rt. Hn. Frederick|
|Clark, David (Coins Valley)||Gilbert, Dr. John||Leonard, Dick|
|Cocks, Michael (Bristol, S.)||Ginsburg, David (Dewsbury)||Lestor, Miss Joan|
|Cohen, Stanley||Golding, John||Lewis, Arthur (W. Ham, N.)|
|Coleman, Donald||Gourlay, Harry||Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)|
|Concannon, J. D.||Grant, George (Morpeth)||Lipton, Marcus|
|Conlan, Bernard||Grant, John D. (Islington, E.)||Lomas, Kenneth|
|Corbet, Mrs. Freda||Loughlin, Charles|
|Cox, Thomas (Wandsworth, C.)||Griffiths, Eddie (Brightside)||Lyon, Alexander W. (York)|
|Cronin, John||Griffiths, Will (Exchange)||Lyons, Edward (Bradford, E.)|
|Crosland, Rt. Hn. Anthony||Grimond, Rt. Hn. J.||Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson|
|Crossman, Rt. Hn. Richard||Hamilton, James (Bothwell)||McBride, Nell|
|Cunningham, G. (Islington, S.W.)||Hamilton, William (Fife, W.)||McCartney, Hugh|
|Cunningham, Dr. J. A. (Whitehaven)||Hamling, William||McElhone, Frank|
|Dalyell, Tarn||Hannan, William (G'gow, Maryhill)||McGuire, Michael|
|Darling, Rt. Hn. George||Hardy, Peter||Mackenzie, Gregor|
|Davidson, Arthur||Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)||Mackie, John|
|Davies, Denzil (Llanelly)||Hart, Rt. Hn. Judith||Mackintosh, John P.|
|Davies, G. Elfed (Rhondda, E.)||Hattersley, Roy||Maclennan, Robert|
|Davies, Ifor (Gower)||Healey, Rt. Hn. Denis||McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C )|
|Davis, Clinton (Hackney. C.)||Heffer, Eric S.||McNamara, J. Kevin|
|Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield, E.)||Parry, Robert (Liverpool, Exchange)||Stoddart, David (Swindon)|
|Marks, Kenneth||Peart, Rt. Hn. Fred||Stonehouse, Rt. Hn. John|
|Marquand, David||Perry, Ernest G.||Strang, Gavin|
|Marsden, F.||Prentice, Rt. Hn. Reg.||Strauss, Rt. Hn. G. R.|
|Marshall, Dr. Edmund||Prescott, John||Summerskill, Hn. Dr. Shirley|
|Mason, Rt. Hn. Roy||Price, J. T. (Westhoughton)||Swain, Thomas|
|Mayhew, Christopher||Price, William (Rugby)||Thomas, Rt. Hn. George (Cardiff, W.)|
|Meacher, Michael||Probert, Arthur||Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)|
|Mellish, Rt. Hn. Robert||Reed, D. (Sedgefield)||Thomson, Rt. Hn. G. (Dundee, E.)|
|Mendelson, John||Rees, Merlyn (Leeds. S.)||Thorpe, Rt. Hn. Jeremy|
|Mikardo, Ian||Rhodes, Geoffrey||Tinn, James|
|Millan, Bruce||Richard, Ivor||Tomney, Frank|
|Miller, Dr. M. S.||Roberts, Albert (Normanton)||Torney, Tom|
|Milne, Edward||Roberts, Rt. Hn. Goronwy (Caernarvon)||Tuck, Raphael|
|Mitchell, R. C. (S'hampton, Itchen)||Robertson, John (Paisley)||Urwin, T. W.|
|Molloy, William||Roderick, Caerwyn E.(Brc'n&R'dnor)||Varley, Eric G.|
|Morgan, Elystan (Cardiganshire)||Rodgers, William (Stockton-on-Tees)||Wainwright, Edwin|
|Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)||Roper, John||Walden, Brian (B'm'ham, All Saints)|
|Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)||Rose, Paul B.||Walker, Harold (Doncaster)|
|Morris, Rt. Hn. John (Aberavon)||Ross, Rt. Hn. William (Kilmarnock;||Wallace, George|
|Moyle, Roland||Rowlands, Ted||Watkins, David|
|Mulley, Rt. Hn. Frederick||Sandelson, Neville||Weitzman, David|
|Murray, Ronald King||Sheldon, Robert (Ashton-under-Lyne)||Wellbeloved, James|
|Oakes, Gordon||Shore, Rt. Hn. Peter (Stepney)||Wells, William (Walsall, N.)|
|Ogden, Eric||Short, Rt. Hn. Edward (N'c'tle-u-Tyne)||White, James (Glasgow, Pollok)|
|O'Halloran, Michael||Silkin, Rt. Hn. John (Deptford)||Whitehead, Phillip|
|O'Malley, Brian||Silkin, Hn. S. C. (Dulwich)||Whitlock, William|
|Oram Bert||Sillars, James||Willey, Rt. Hn. Frederick|
|Orbach, Maurice||Silverman, Julius||Williams, Alan (Swansea, W.)|
|Orme, Stanley||Skinner, Dennis||Williams, Mrs. Shirley (Hitchin)|
|Oswald, Thomas||Small, William||Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)|
|Padley, Walter||Smith, John (Lanarkshire, N.)||Wilson, William (Coventry, S.)|
|Spearing, Nigel||Woof, Robert|
|Paget, R. T.||Spriggs, Leslie|
|Palmer, Arthur||Stallard, A. W.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Pannell, Rt. Hn. Charles||Steel, David||Mr. Tom Pendry and|
|Pardoe, John||Stewart, Donald (Western Isles)||Mr. Joseph Harper.|
|Parker, John (Dagenham)||Stewart, Rt. Hn. Michael (Fulham)|
|Adley, Robert||Clark, William (Surrey, E.)||Godber, Rt. Hn. J. B.|
|Alison, Michael (Barkston Ash)||Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)||Goodhart, Philip|
|Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead)||Cockeram, Eric||Goodhew, Victor|
|Amery, Rt. Hn. Julian||Cooke, Robert||Gorst, John|
|Archer, Jeffrey (Louth)||Coombs, Derek||Gower, Raymond|
|Astor, John||Cooper, A E.||Grant, Anthony (Harrow, C.)|
|Atkins, Humphrey||Cordle, John||Gray, Hamish|
|Awdry, Daniel||Cormack, Patrick||Green, Alan|
|Baker, Kenneth (St. Marylebone)||Costain A. P.|
|Baker, W. H. K. (Banff)||Critchley, Julian||Grieve, Percy|
|Bainiel, Rt. Hn. Lord||Crouch, David||Griffiths, Eldon (Bury St. Edmunds)|
|Barber, Rt. Hn. Anthony||Crowder, F. P.||Grylls, Michael|
|Batsford, Brian||Davies, Rt. Hn. John (Knutsford)||Gummer, J. Selwyn|
|Beamish, Col. Sir Tufton||d'Avigdor-Goldsmid. Sir Henry||Gurden, Harold|
|Bell, Ronald||d'Avigdor-Goldsmid,Maj.-Gen. Jack||Hall, Miss Joan (Keighley)|
|Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torquay)||Dean, Paul||Hall, John (Wycombe)|
|Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gosport)||Deedes, Rt. Hn. W. F.||Hall-Davis, A. G. F.|
|Benyon, W.||Digby, Simon Wingfield||Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)|
|Berry, Hn. Anthony||Dixon, Piers||Hannam, John (Exeter)|
|Biggs-Davison, John||Dodds-Parker, Douglas||Harrison, Brian (Maldon)|
|Blaker, Peter||Douglas-Home, Rt. Hn. Sir Alec||Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye)|
|Boardman Tom (Leicester, S.W.)||Drayson, G. B.||Haselhurst, Alan|
|Boscawen, Hn. Pobert||du Cann, Rt. Hn. Edward||Hastings, Stephen|
|Bossom, Sir Clive||Eden, Rt. Hn. Sir John||Havers, Michael|
|Bowden, Andrew||Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke)||Hawkins, Paul|
|Braine, Sir Bernard||Elliott, R. W. (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne,N.)|
|Bray, Ronald||Hay, John|
|Brewis, John||Emery, Peter||Hayhoe, Barney|
|Brinton, Sir Tatton||Eyre, Reginald||Heath, Rt. Hn. Edward|
|Brocklebank-Fowler, Christopher||Fell, Anthony||Heseltine, Michael|
|Brown, Sir Edward (Bath)||Fenner, Mrs. Peggy||Hicks, Robert|
|Bryan, Sir Paul||Finsberg, Geoffrey (Hampstead)|
|Buchanan-Smith, Alick (Angus,N&M)||Fookes, Miss Janet||Hiley, Joseph|
|Buck, Antony||Fortescue, Tim||Hill, John E. B. (Norfolk, S.)|
|Bullus, Sir Eric||Foster, Sir John||Hill, James (Southampton, Test)|
|Burden, F. A.||Fowler, Norman||Holland, Philip|
|Butler, Adam (Bosworth)||Fox, Marcus||Holt, Miss Mary|
|Campbell, Rt.Hn. G.(Moray & Nairn)||Fraser,Rt.Hn.Hugh(St'fford & Stone)||Hordern, Peter|
|Carlisle, Mark||Fry, Peter||Hornby, Richard|
|Channon, Paul||Galbraith, Hn. T. G. D.||Hornsby-Smith,Rt.Hn.Dame Patricia|
|Chapman, Sydney||Gardner, Edward||Howe, Hn. Sir Geoffrey (Reigate)|
|Chataway, Rt. Hn. Christopher||Gibson-Watt, David||Howell, David (Guildford)|
|Chichester-Clark. R.||Gilmour, Sir John (Fife. E.)||Howell, Ralph (Norfolk, N.)|
|Churchill, W. S.||Glyn, Dr. Alan||Hunt, John|
|Hutchison, Michael Clark||Mitchell,Lt.-Col.C.(Aberdeenshire.W)||Shaw, Michael (Sc'b'gh & Whitby)|
|Iremonger, T. L.||Mitchell, David (Basingstoke)||Shelton, William (Clapham)|
|Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)||Moate, Roger||Simeons, Charles|
|James, David||Molyneaux, James||Sinclair, Sir George|
|Jenkin, Patrick (Woodford)||Money, Ernie||Skeet, T. H. H.|
|Jennings, J. C. (Burton)||Monks, Mrs. Connie||Smith, Dudley (W'wick S L'mington)|
|Jessel, Toby||Monro, Hector||Soref, Harold|
|Johnson Smith, G. (E. Grinstead)||Montgomery, Fergus||Speed, Keith|
|Jones, Arthur (Northants. S.)||More, Jasper||Spence, John|
|Jopling, Michael||Morgan-Giles, Rear-Adm||Sproat, lain|
|Joseph, Rt. Hn. Sir Keith||Morrison, Charles||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|Kaberry, Sir Donald||Mudd, David||Stewart-Smith, Geoffrey (Belper)|
|Kershaw, Anthony||Murton, Oscar||Stodart, Anthony (Edinburgh, W.)|
|Kilfedder, James||Nabarro, Sir Geralo||Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir M.|
|Kimball, Marcus||Neave, Airey||Stokes, John|
|King, Evelyn (Dorset, S.)||Nicholls, Sir Harmar||Sutcliffe, John|
|King, Tom (Bridgwater)||Noble, Rt. Hn. Michael||Tapsell, Peter|
|Kinsey, J. R.||Noll, John||Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)|
|Kirk, Peter||Onslow, Cranley||Taylor,Edward M.(G'gow,Cathcart)|
|Kitson, Timothy||Orr, Capt. L. P. S||Taylor, Frank (Moss Side)|
|Knight, Mrs. Jill||Osborn, John||Taylor, Robert (Croydon, N.W.)|
|Knox, David||Owen, Idris (Stockport, N.)||Tebbit, Norman|
|Lambton, Lord||Page, Rt. Hn. Graham (Crosby)||Temple, John M.|
|Lamont, Norman||Page, John (Harrow, W.)||Thatcher, Rt. Hn. Mrs. Margaret|
|Lane, David||Parkinson, Cecil||Thomas, John Stradling (Monmouth)|
|Langford-Holt, Sir John||Peel, John||Thomas, Rt. Hn. Peter (Hendon, S.)|
|Le Marchant, Spencer||Percival, Ian||Thompson, Sir Richard (Croydon, S.)|
|Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)||Peyton, Rt. Hn. John||Tilney, John|
|Lloyd, Ian (P'tsm'th, Langstone)||Pike, Miss Mervyn||Trew, Peter|
|Longden, Sir Gilbert||Pink, R. Bonner||Tugendhat, Christopher|
|Loveridge, John||Pounder, Rafton||van Straubenzee, W. R.|
|Luce, R. N.||Price, David (Eastleigh)||Vaughan, Dr. Gerard|
|MacArthur, Ian||Prior, Rt. Hn. J. M. L.||Vickers, Dame Joan|
|McCrindle, R. A.||Proudfoot, Wilfred||Walder, David (Clitheroe)|
|McLaren, Martin||Pym, Rt. Hn. Francis||Walker, Rt. Hn. Peter (Worcester)|
|Maclean, Sir Fitzroy||Quennell, Miss J. M.||Walker-Smith, Rt. Hn. Sir Derek|
|McMaster, Stanley||Raison, Timothy||Wall, Patrick|
|Macmillan,Rt.Hn Maurice(Farnham)||Ramsden, Rt. Hn. James||Walters, Dennis|
|McNair-Wilson, Michael||Rawlinson, Rt. Hn. Sir Peter||Ward, Dame Irene|
|McNair-Wilson, Patrick (New Forest)||Redmond, Robert||Warren, Kenneth|
|Maddan, Martin||Reed, Laurance (Bolton, E.)||Wells, John (Maidstone)|
|Madel, David||Rees, Peter (Dover)||White, Roger (Gravesend)|
|Maginnis, John E.||Rees-Davies, W. R.||Wiggin, Jerry|
|Marples, Rt. Hn. Ernest||Renton, Rt. Hn. Sir David||Wilkinson, John|
|Marten, Neil||Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Mather, Carol||Ridsdale, Julian||Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick|
|Maude, Angus||Rippon, Rt. Hn. Geoffrey||Wood, Rt. Hn. Richard|
|Maudling, Rt. Hn. Reginald||Roberts, Michael (Cardiff, N.)||Woodhouse, Hn. Christopher|
|Mawby, Ray||Roberts, Wyn (Conway)||Woodnutt, Mark|
|Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J.||Rodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks)||Worsley, Marcus|
|Meyer, Sir Anthony||Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)||Wylie, Rt. Hn. N. R.|
|Mills, Peter (Torrington)||Rost, Peter||Younger, Hn. George|
|Mills, Stratton (Belfast, N.)||Russell, Sir Ronald||TELLERS FOR THE NOES|
|Miscampbell, Norman||St. John-Stevas, Norman||Mr. Walter Clegg and|
|Scott, Nicholas||Mr. Bernard Weatherill|
§ Question accordingly negatived.
§ It being after Eleven o'clock, The CHAIRMAN left the Chair to report Progress and ask leave to sit again, pursuant to the order yesterday.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again tomorrow.